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ORLANDO -- Orlando First Academy (10-0) came into this game as the perennial under dog. Orlando Jones was faster, bigger, stronger - they had multiple high Division 1 athletes. They had played with all the big dogs from around Central Florida for years. TFA, before reclassification in 2011, was always the 'small school'.
Things are different now.
Behind a 291 yard, two touchdown performance by do-it-all athlete Lloyd Hilton, the First Academy Royals overcame a late surge by host Orlando-Jones (6-4) and capped a perfect 10-0 regular season with a thrilling 44-41 victory in a game that will go down as one of the best of the 2012 Central Florida high school football season.
The Royals set the tone early and never looked back.
On the game's opening drive, it took TFA just three plays to get on the board. After MJ Mathis returned the opening kickoff near midfield, the Royals used runs of 8 and 12 yards by Lloyd Hylton, dominating the line of scrimmage, and capped the quick scoring drive on a 32 yard run by Colton Plante to take a quick 7-0 lead a mere 49 seconds into the game.
After Fletcher McGee opened Jones' ensuing drive with an 18 yard reception, Garrett Williams forced a sack, resulting in a fumble that set TFA up deep inside Tiger territory.
TFA would then miss a kick, one of few missed opportunities on the night, and following a defensive stop on Jones' ensuing possession to set up favorable field position, The Royals scored from 12 yards out to take an eye-opening 14-0 lead mid way through the first quarter.
Jones would not go down, and the Tigers would set the theme of the night to begin the second quarter. Ty Taylor started the momentum with a big reception to the Royal 35, and Jones quarterback Jujuan Battle would cap the drive with three consecutive completions, his last for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Jones would strike again following a blocked punt at the TFA 25 yard line, taking their first play from scrimmage for a touchdown on a 25 yard reception by speedster and Florida State-commit Kermit Whitfield. With the score tied at 14 just before the half, TFA dug deep as Kwadarrius Smith made his first of multiple brilliant plays on the night, taking the first play from scrimmage 66 yards to the house to put TFA up 21-14 heading into the music break.
Two plays, two touchdowns. The tone was set.
...and it continued. The first play of the second half will provide a thrill for TFA's end-of-season highlight reel, as basketball standout Luke Ebbsmeyer intercepted a Jones quarterback-throwback attempt after three back-and-forth tips, giving the visiting crowd life and the Royals a quick 28-14 lead to open the second half.
Then, after forcing a Jones punt, Lloyd Hylton ripped off a huge 69 yard run along the home sideline to set up a field goal and 31-14 TFA lead.
On Jones' ensiung possession, they used their speed and quick passing game to their advantage, putting speed in space to get inside the TFA 5 yard line. Quarterback Jujuan Battle would find paydirt soon after, and with a successful 2-point conversion the Tigers were within 9 at 31-22.
Lloyd Hamilton then struck for the third time, bringing his rushing total over 200 yards with an 80 yard scamper on TFA's first play from scrimmage to leverage the gap to 16, 38-22.
You know what came next. Whitfield took Jones next play for an 80-yarder, closing the score to 38-28 and setting the stage for a shootout. But the comeback attempt soon proved harder than expected as blazing fast Lloyd Hamilton took a 58 yard run for six to widen the Royals advantage to 45-28.
Wilkerson Myrtle would return the ensuing kickoff for an electrifying touchdown, and Jones closed the gap to 45-41 on another Whitfield touchdown reception, but TFA senior captain Michael Larson fielded Jones' desperate onside kick attempt with 2:47 remaining to seal the dramatic and hard-earned 45-41 win for the Royals.
Jones has lost to four playoff teams - Miami Washington, Cocoa, Orlando Freedom and TFA, and is a legitimate final four contender in 4A despite their record. The First Academy, meanwhile, capped an undefeated regular season and would need to surpass both Madison County and University School for a shot at the 3A state title. Expect both of these teams to make deep playoff runs in their respective classifications.