VERO BEACH – In the biggest play of their regional semifinal playoff game Friday night, the Vero Beach Indians turned the Deuce loose.
Defensive lineman Anthwone Montgomery – nicknamed “Deuce” – batted down a fourth-down conversion attempt by Melbourne in the fourth quarter, giving the Indians the ball and lifting them to the next round of the state playoffs.
Vero Beach defeated Melbourne 26-7 in the Class 4S Region 3 semifinal match at Billy Livings Field at the Citrus Bowl, but it wasn’t a high-flying offensive show by either side.
With just under 10 minutes remaining in the game and Vero Beach (11-1) ahead 13-7, Melbourne (9-3) went for it on fourth-and-3 at the Indians 16, but the pass by Bulldogs quarterback Hunter Turner was deflected by Montgomery.
“I just really pressed (the offensive lineman) back, and I saw the quarterback pull his arm back and I just put my hands up,” said Montgomery, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound sophomore. “It was fourth down, had to make a play.”
Quarterback EJ White tossed a screen pass to Vandrevius Jacobs six plays later, with the future Florida State Seminole roasting the Melbourne defense on a 39-yard touchdown sprint at 7:21 to make it a two-score game.
White scored his second TD on the following series – an 11-yard burst with 68 seconds left – to ice the game and keep Vero Beach alive in the postseason run.
Next Friday night at the Citrus Bowl, the Indians will host Kissimmee-Osceola, a 10-7 victor over Treasure Coast.
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After holding a slim six-point in a rugged first half, Vero Beach harassed Turner – getting sacks from Kezni Brown, Matthew Bacon and Keyshawn Campbell – and had the quarterback scrambling around looking for anything downfield.
“We felt like you get to this point and you’ve got to take care of business in the trenches,” Jankowski said. “(Melbourne) was tough up front on both sides of the ball, but our guys gave a ton on effort. We just kept coming at them. It was a battle.
“In the second half, we couldn’t get any field position – we kept losing ground – but our defense kept stepping up.”
The first half proved to be somewhat of a struggle offensively as both defenses stood out, but Vero Beach earned a 13-7 lead behind the quarterback tandem of Jake Whiteley and White.
Melbourne forced a turnover on downs the first two times it played defense, but the Indians returned the favor on the next Bulldogs series, leading to the contest’s first score.
After Whiteley struck Jacobs for the half’s biggest play – a 37-yard jump ball – the quarterback tossed a pass to Quincy Rodgers in the flats. The running back then rambled seven yards, but the conversion was blocked and left Vero Beach up 6-0 at 10:28 of the second quarter.
Melbourne answered two series later on a three-play, 49-yard drive, getting a 16-yard run by Wesley Lambert off the right side for a 7-6 lead with 4:31 left in the half.
However, the Indians took off nearly four minutes off the clock on a 71-yard drive on 11 plays. White capped the possession by running straight up the middle for five yards on a draw for a 13-7 halftime advantage.
White rushed for 83 yards on 21 carries and the two scores. He was 6 of 9 for 98 yards passing and a TD. Whiteley went 8-for-13 for 92 yards. Jacobs caught seven passes for 108 yards and a TD, plus he and teammate Donquaill Wesley recorded interceptions.
Turner was 15-for-27 for 205 yards and two interceptions, with receiver Frankie Santiago posting eight receptions for 124 yards. Lambert carried 14 times for 82 yards and a score.
“We should have been able to punch that ball in in the second half,” Melbourne coach David Kintigh said of the fourth-down swat by Montgomery. “Momentum just kind of didn’t go our way. We were in it and within a score until about seven minutes to play. I was comfortable with it, but we had to have some breaks go our way.”