The Dolphins (14-0) erupted for 21 second-quarter points, including a crucial 35-yard run on fourth and one to the Hylton one-yard line and a backbreaking 57-yard touchdown pass in the half’s closing seconds.
“We were stopping them,” senior linebacker E.J. Levenberry said, “but we gave up big plays toward the end of the half. Those big plays hurt us in the long run.”
The ninth-ranked Bulldogs (10-3), who gained just 46 total yards in the first half, regrouped and struck early after the break.
Junior quarterback Travon McMillian found junior wide receiver Terrin Allen-Neal down the left sideline. Allen-Neal broke a tackle and sprinted into the end zone to make it 21-7 with 10:10 left in the third quarter.
Hylton held the Dolphins to three three-and-outs in the quarter. The Bulldogs forced a fumble on Ocean Lakes’s only big play of the third when quarterback Walter “Churchie” Harold coughed it up at the end of a 42-yard scamper.
McMillian capped the ensuing nine-play, 73-yard drive with a 21-yard strike to Allen-Neal, who corralled a tipped pass in the end zone. McMillian finished 5 of 10 for 103 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed 16 times for 31 yards but couldn’t break any of the big run that have been his staple this season.
“They had schemed to take Travon out of the game,” Hylton Coach Tony Lilly said.
Following Hylton’s final drive, which ended in a sack, Ocean Lakes sealed the win with key conversions on third and one, and fourth and two.
“I’m probably more proud of my team at this moment than I have been at any time this season,” Lilly said, “because they showed character and pride and came back out in the second half and gave it everything they had.”
The loss marks the end to a season that saw the Bulldogs build on their recent success by winning their 10th Northwest Region title and returning to the state semifinals for the first time since 2005. Hylton posted consecutive 10-0 regular seasons in 2010 and 2011, but failed to make it out of the Northwest Region.
“Next year is going to be a different story,” Allen-Neal said. “I’ll tell you that.”