NEW PORT RICHEY — The start wasn't quite befitting of a playoff game between undefeated teams, but the end of Friday's war between Ocala Vanguard and Mitchell certainly was.
Like last year's Class 6A regional semifinal, the Mustangs held a three-point halftime lead. And like 2016, the Knights surged on touchdowns from Dabarre Jenkins and Avanta Crim to a 27-17 advantage early in the final quarter.
The sheer will of seniors Jakob Mattos and Mychael Hamilton along with junior Nick Ferrini, aided by an emotional home crowd, lifted Mitchell into the lead with 2:52 remaining, but Vanguard had one last drive left.
With just one timeout left, the Knights marched 55 yards and scored on quarterback Marquez Glover's 1-yard sneak with 28.9 seconds left to deliver a 35-31 victory and a date with Armwood in the region finals next Friday.
The teams combined for four TDs in an emotional roller-coaster of a fourth quarter.
Mattos (88 passing yards, 60 on the ground) made it a one-possession game for Mitchell (11-1) on a brilliant 17-yard scramble to the end zone.
Seven plays later, Ferrini got the crowd on its feet by picking off Glover's pass and returning it 34 yards to the Knights 48. A 27-yard Mattos-to-Kym-mani King completion set the stage for Hamilton (28 carries, 101 yards) to bull in from the 6 for his third TD of the night then run in the two-point conversion to get Mitchell back on top.
"It was a heckuva play," Mustangs head coach Andy Schmitz said of Ferrini's pick. "It kind of felt over there for a second and he made a huge play. It put us back in the game."
But Vanguard (11-0), which rolled up 439 yards of offense, wouldn't be denied.
"Marquez did an awesome job getting the ball to his receivers (six receivers totaling 185 yards), and it was all effort, all team effort on that last drive," Knights head coach Edwin Farmer said. "They were hungry for it, wanted it bad, and they finished on a good note."
J.P. Watt had a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first half for Mitchell. Vanguard TDs also came from senior Devin Edwards and junior Glover Cook (game-high 150 rushing yards).
"These were two good football teams," Schmitz concluded. "It (stinks) that someone had to lose."