Vanguard rallies past Dunnellon to stay unbeaten

Knights storm back from 21-point halftime deficit to beat Tigers

The Vanguard defense swarms Dunnellon’s Raphael Narvaez (18) during the second quarter of Friday night’s game at Booster Stadium. [Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette]

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Posted September 9, 2023 | By Mark Pinson
Special to the Ocala Gazette

It was a tale of two halves in Friday night’s game between Dunnellon and Vanguard. The first half was dominated by Dunnellon, as the visiting Tigers jumped out to a surprising 21-0 lead.

The second half was all Vanguard, as senior quarterback Fred Gaskin threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores, including the go-ahead touchdown with just 44 seconds left in the game to give the Knights a thrilling 28-21 comeback win over the Tigers at Booster Stadium.

The win improved Class 3S Vanguard, which was missing a number of starters to injuries, to 3-0 on the season.

“We were definitely sleeping in the first half,” said veteran Knights coach Edwin Farmer. “We weren’t lining up right, we were in the wrong gaps and weren’t doing the right things. I had to shake them awake at halftime. We were lucky we had a second half to play, and we got out there and played Vanguard football. The defense didn’t allow Dunnellon to score in the second half, they forced a couple of turnovers and our offense got going. Fred was determined to win and even played cornerback in the second half for us. He had that want-to attitude and there was no doubt who we were going to on that last drive. When we play like we did in the second half we’re a good team, but when we play like we did in the first half, we can get beat.”

The loss evened Class 2S Dunnellon’s record at 1-1.

“We told the kids at halftime we knew the best version of Vanguard was going to come out and it definitely did,” said Tigers coach Tommy Sutton. “It started with a good kick return to start the second half and they went right down the field and scored. We just didn’t respond in the second half and that’s on me. We were up 21-0 and needed to have that killer mentality to finish them off. This loss hurts, but we’re going to learn and grow from it.”

Dunnellon opened the scoring on its third possession of the game as sophomore quarterback Dylan Curry guided the Tigers 56 yards to the end zone in just three plays. After an incomplete pass, Curry scrambled for 33 yards and connected with junior wide receiver Sean Martin on a 23-yard touchdown pass. The extra point by Mark Pastorella was no good to make it 6-0 with 2:23 left in the first quarter.

Dunnellon’s Sean Martin (4) catches a 23-yard touchdown pass as Vanguard’s Johntavous Davenport defends during the first quarter of Friday night’s game at Booster Stadium. [Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette]

The Vanguard offense went three and out and was forced to punt.

Dunnellon marched 69 yards in 12 plays, all on the ground, with Martin finding the end zone on a 4-yard run. Dylan Donahoe ran for the 2-point conversion to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead midway through the second period.

Vanguard moved the ball to the Dunnellon 33 on a nice pass from Gaskin to wide receiver Mitch Brown. But disaster struck as a Vanguard fumble was picked up by Tigers cornerback Chris Henry who returned it 67 yards for a touchdown. The extra point by Pastorella was good to make it 21-0 at the half.

Vanguard returned the second half kickoff back to midfield and moved the ball efficiently with Gaskin capping the drive with a 6-yard scoring scamper. The point after by Jaxson Lee pulled the Knights within 21-7.

Dunnellon’s Malachi Bullock (11) looks for running room during Friday night’s game against Vanguard. [Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette]

A swarming Vanguard defense forced a Dunnellon punt, and the Knights took over at their 48. Gaskin completed a 12-yard slant pass to Jeremiah Ewing before finding Dallen Ponder open behind the Tigers’ secondary for a 40-yard touchdown pass, The extra point made it 21-14 midway through the third quarter.

Dunnellon put together a solid drive that reached the Vanguard 35, but Curry was hit hard, fumbled the ball and the Knights recovered.

Vanguard motored down the field with Gaskin using his feet and arm to pick up several first downs. Gaskin hit Jermaine White for a 20-yard touchdown pass. The Knights signal caller completed 18 of 27 passes for 244 yards and two scores. The extra point by Lee tied the score at 21-21 midway through the fourth quarter.

Dunnellon’s offense was stymied once more by the swarming Vanguard defense and was forced to punt.

The Knights took possession at their 40-yard line with 2:20 left in the game. Gaskin completed a 34-yard pass to Tay’juan Leslie and found Cameron King open over the middle for another 13-yard gain. White rumbled for a first down at the Dunnellon 1-yard line and Gaskin scored on a quarterback keeper to give the Knights a 28-21 lead with 44 seconds left to play. Gaskin rushed 17 times for 71 yards.

Dunnellon’s last hope was snuffed out with an interception of a Curry pass by Vanguard senior defensive back Cameron Powell.

The Knights took a knee to run out the clock to seal the hard-fought victory.

Vanguard is back in action on Friday with a home game against Leesburg, while Dunnellon hosts Williston on Friday night.

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