Palm Bay had the look of a football team with a renewed purpose on Wednesday, shutting down 2014 Class 7A regional finalist Royal Palm Beach until its final drive for a 35-7 spring football game win.
“We had a bad taste in our mouths after missing the playoffs,” head coach Dan Burke said after the game was called when lightning interrupted play late in the third quarter. The Pirates had forced a running clock by pushing the lead to 35 points on a 30-yard Chase Harris touchdown run about two minutes into the second half.
“I usually don’t overemphasize a spring game result, but I think that’s big for us,” Burke said. “The players can’t wait to get back in the weight room tomorrow.”
Palm Bay had made the FHSAA playoffs 18 consecutive seasons before not qualifying in 2014.
Games at Cocoa and Merritt Island had bigger problems with lightning delays. The alarm stopped play twice at Merritt Island, where the Mustangs hosted Melbourne and Bayside in a modified jamboree.
The first section — each matchup lasted two 12-minute periods — ended with the Mustangs over Melbourne, 18-0. A 3-yard Raleigh Barfield run and 25-yard pass to David Dufresne started the scoring.
That was followed by the Bulldogs over Bayside, 24-0. Quinterious Terry scored from the 7 after a Bears fumble, and a B.J. Daniels run gave Melbourne a two-touchdown lead late in the first period.
In the final matchup, Merritt Island led Bayside, 14-0, as the game went late due to the stoppages in play.
Palm Bay’s special teams set up a quick start for the Pirates with a deep Anthony Dibenedetto kickoff and coverage that stopped the Wildcats deep in their territory. Led by active defender Twonnie Pollard, the Pirates got penetration most of the night and pursued Royal Palm Beach ball carriers behind the line.
Palm Bay’s defense forced three punts in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Pirates running back Brian Lankford-Johnson gained 68 yards on 11 attempts before halftime.
Lankford-Johnson ran patiently and used his speed outside to score rushing touchdowns of 27, 5 and 4 yards in the first 13 minutes of play. When the Wildcats keyed on the backs, quarterback Dez Arthur rolled right and hit Carson White, who dodged a defender for a 26-yard score and a 28-0 halftime lead.
At Cocoa, Zach Armour was in on two scoring plays for the Tigers, who fell to visiting Oxbridge Academy, 21-14 in the fourth quarter. Armour scored on a 1-yard run in the first and connected with Ian Edwards on a 36-yard pass late in the third.
“We started five freshmen and four sophomores,” Cocoa head coach John Wilkinson said of his defense. “We missed some tackles. We’re in the right spot but we’re just young. We have to get in the weight room and get more game experience.”
Tyler Vazquez contributed to this report.