PLANT CITY — For the first time in 40 years, East Bay High's football team is a district champion.
On Monday night, the Indians won both rounds of a three-way tiebreaker for first place against Strawberry Crest and Plant City to capture the Class 7A-District 8 title.
The Indians (7-3) will host Gaither in the region quarterfinals on Nov. 15.
Plant City defeated Strawberry Crest in the final round of the tiebreaker, 6-0, to advance to the playoffs as the district runner-up. The Raiders will play at Sickles in the region quarterfinals.
The championship also gave East Bay its first playoff berth since 2005. The Indians are 0-6 all-time in the state playoffs, and after making their first appearance in 1973 they did not return to the postseason until 2000.
“I can't put it into words,” said East Bay coach Frank LaRosa, now in his third season. “It hasn't hit me. These guys are just absolutely resilient. They're warriors, they're fighters, all those words that are synonymous with kids that just do not give up. They just play their hearts out.”
East Bay defeated Strawberry Crest, 7-0, in the first round between the two lower seeds in the tiebreaker to set up a 12-minute district championship bout with top seed Plant City.
Chris Carpentier connected with running back Randen Cortez on a 20-yard pass with 36 seconds left for the game-winning touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, a Plant City player unknowingly touched the football and it was recovered by East Bay, which ran out the clock for the 7-0 win.
“It's unreal,” said Carpentier, who was 3-for-3 on the winning drive with passes of 4, 24 and 20 yards. “We're going to see that banner 50 years from now when we come back to our 50-year reunion and it's still going to be up there. We made it happen.'
The game-winning drive was made possible by a touchdown-saving interception from senior Anton Crutcher.
Earlier, senior running back Chris Greene scored on a 17-yard touchdown run with 56 seconds left to give the Indians the win over the Chargers.
Strawberry Crest started a potential game-winning drive from its own 16, but East Bay's Marques Ford sacked the quarterback on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs.
In the night's final quarter, Plant City senior defensive end Sedrick King recovered a fumble and returned it 6 yards for a touchdown to give Plant City the 6-0 lead.
Strawberry Crest moved into Plant City territory with just over 30 seconds left, but a personal foul called on the Chargers moved them back to midfield. Plant City sacked the quarterback on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs to end the game.
“They were hungry for that district title,” said Plant City coach Wayne Ward, who will make his first playoff appearance as head coach. “They wanted to beat East Bay but there's a chance we'll see them again.”