Cowboy’s Greatest Season in History Continues

Rachel Slay, Editor-in-Chief

The stands swayed and the crowd erupted as the Gaither Cowboys lined up in victory formation to secure their eleventh win of the season, and a trip to the Class 6A Region 2 Final.

The No. 1 seed knocked out the No. 4 seed Clearwater Tornadoes, winning 27-20.

Clearwater and Gaither went back and forth the whole night, neither side allowing a lead of more than 7 points. A couple of Gaither’s promising drives were cut short by interceptions by quarterback Tony Bartalo and Clearwater’s Rent Montie had only one passing TD.

Gaither was shut out in the first quarter with a score of 0-6 but Bartalo managed to throw four TD passes to four different receivers before the clock winded down.

Jeff Duclos was the first to score for Gaither on a 45-yard pass from Bartalo. Duclos shook off a defender and raced to the end zone. Kicker and safety Hunter Mintzer’s PAT attempt was no-good and the score was tied 6-6.

Shortly after, Gaither pulled ahead.

Bartalo nailed a 43-yard TD pass to Jayden Mendez to wrap up a 75-yard, four-play, one minute and 49 second drive in the second quarter.

The Tornadoes knotted up the score at 13-13 before the end of the half and scored once more, early in the fourth quarter, on a 1-yard quarterback keep by Montie. This was their last TD of the game.

Gaither, down 13-20 with a little over 10 minutes left in regulation, was not going down without a fight. The Cowboy defense created heavy pressure, collapsing the pocket quickly and holding the Tornado rushing attempts to small gains.

“We knew we had it the whole time, and that the offense would help us out.  We just had to come out with more energy, and we did,” said Mintzer.

They especially needed to after starting linebacker Sammie Lee was ejected in the third quarter for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Bartalo led the Cowboys on an 89-yard drive and knotted it up at 20-20 midway through the fourth quarter.  With 1:52 left on the clock, Bartalo lobbed the 8-yard game winner to Jordan Oladokun, who came down with the jump ball.  Gaither pulled ahead 27-20.

Clearwater’s offense took the field once more and went for it on 4th down in a last-ditch effort.  Montie’s pass was knocked down by Mintzer, ending the ball game.

“It was crazy. I’m just really excited to make it out of the second round,” said Mintzer.

He’s right. The Cowboys will move on to the Class 6A Region 2 Final against Lake Minneola (9-3) next week at Gaither’s Ron Allen Field.