The Gators defense held Mainland QB Taron Keith to less than 100 yards of total offense.
PENSACOLA — Another week, another blowout victory for head coach Mike Bennett’s Escambia Gators.
The Gators rolled through Mainland 27-7 on Friday night at Emmitt Smith Field, forcing four turnovers and smothering Buccaneers quarterback Taron Keith.
Mainland, a playoff participant for the 26th consecutive fall, ends its season with a 7-5 record. It’s the third straight year in which the Bucs have exited before the region final.
Escambia (12-0) set the tone early and limited Mainland to just 70 first-half yards while building a 10-0 halftime lead.
A trio of second-half turnovers helped set up Escambia’s insurance points as star running back Frank Peasant scored three touchdowns, including a 64-yard game-sealing touchdown pass to JoJo Blackmon in the fourth quarter.
“[Defensive coordinator Gary Cowart] came up with a great gameplan to stop them,” Bennett said. “…It was just a chess match all night. Me and Cowart were talking about it. We just had to keep that quarterback in the pocket and in check. Our defensive coaches and our players did a great job tonight.”
Peasant added another classic performance to his sensational Escambia career.
The Gators’ star running back rushed 27 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which came on a 54-yard breakaway on the first play after Mainland pulled within a score in the fourth quarter.
He sealed the game with a touchdown pass in the final minutes, taking a toss sweep and pulling up to hit a streaking Blackmon down the sideline.
His performance was buoyed by the ball-hawking Gators defense. Senior defensive back Tony Broadnax made two interceptions in the red zone during the second half, bringing his season total for picks to eight.
Tabari Taylor-Richardson recovered a fumble in the first half to set up the Gators’ first score of the night and played a dominant role off the edge in containing Keith’s quarterback runs.
Keith entered Friday averaging over 235 total yards per game and rushed for 154 yards and two scores in an opening-round win over Booker T. Washington. The Gators held Keith under 100 yards of total offense, though the South Florida commit did throw a 25-yard touchdown to Ra’Mello Dotson less than a minute into the fourth.
“It was just a lot of outside runs,” Taylor-Richardson said. “We just had to contain. That was all.”
Escambia has become a near-unstoppable force over the past month.
The Gators have outscored their last five opponents by a combined 215-27 margin in surging to a Region 1-6A championship game appearance.
“We thought this could be a special team,” Bennett said. “When you have a quarterback that’s been with you for three years and a Frank Peasant and a lot of starters back from last year… These guys expected to be in the playoffs and making a run.”
The Gators will host No. 2 seed Jacksonville Lee (9-3) next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Emmitt Smith Field. Lee defeated Columbia 6-3 in its second-round contest.