LAKE PLACID - Sometimes inspiration comes from beyond the gridiron.
That was never more evident than on Friday night at Roger Scarborough Memorial Field, where Avon Park finally played the kind of football it knew it was capable of, dousing Class 4A-District 6 rival Lake Placid by a score of 49-28 to give the Red Devils their first win of the season.
"We finally stepped up and played football," said Avon Park coach Wade Jackson, holding back tears. "But before kickoff, we dedicated this game to Jade Jackson, a young lady who goes to our school, who's fighting brain cancer."
"She's putting up a great fight, and so did we - we won this one for her."
From the outset, however, a handful of pre-snap penalties had the Devils (1-8) looking like they were anything but ready to play.
Undaunted and playing for more than just football, the Devils brushed off the flags and marched down field, as J.C. Cobb punched the ball in from six yards out to give Avon Park a 7-0 lead just four minutes into the game.
Lake Placid (2-6) responded with a scoring drive of its own, as Eldon McKenzie rolled into the end zone to tie the game.
After a couple of stalled drives from both teams, Avon Park found itself at midfield with just four seconds left in the quarter. Deciding to roll the dice, Jackson chose to run the ball one more time - and it paid off. Cobb broke free near the line of scrimmage and rumbled 38 yards for his second touchdown of the night, putting the Devils up 14-7.
Avon Park followed with an onside kick and recovered it in Lake Placid territory. Serving as the Devils work hose, Cobb ripped off another 40-yard touchdown for his third score of the night to putt his team up 21-7.
Not to be outdone, McKenzie scampered 46 yards on the second play of the Dragons next possession to put Lake Placid back within seven.
Avon Park made its only mistake of the night following the kickoff, as quarterback Alfred Brown fumbled the ball on the exchange with Cobb. The Dragons pounced on the loose ball, and made the Devils pay for the turnover when Foster Walker broke a few tackles and escaped up the side lines to tie the game.
Brown took control of the game from there. Utilizing his speed, Brown freed himself from the pocket, and sprinted 55 yards before diving into the end zone. Avon Park missed the extra point, but they wouldn't need it, as the Devils exploded for 21 second half points to put the game away.
Brown added another memorable touchdown late in the fourth quarter to put the dagger in the Dragons coffin.
With the snap sailing over his head, Brown picked up the ball, split a handful of Dragons defenders, and scampered to the opposite side of the field, where he walked into the end zone untouched.
Avon Park's offense has been on fire as of late, as the Devils nearly upended district opponent LaBelle before falling short, 27-24.
"Like we've said all year, people don't believe what you're doing when you're winless," Jackson said. "We've been doing positive things and working hard."
All season long, Jackson's been preaching long-term goals, telling his team that winning is a process; that it takes time to improve.
That message has been resonating all year, and it finally broke through against the Dragons.
"Our program was down," he said. "But we're not going to worry about that. We're going to keep working and keep getting better."
The challenges only continue from here. Next week the Red Devils will be at Firemen's Field to face their historic rivals, the Sebring Blue Streaks.
One of the oldest rivalries in the state, Avon Park has been a punching bag for Sebring for much of the last decade.
But now a surging Devils team is looking to reverse that trend. Avon Park's once sputtering offense is now pumping on all cylinders, and the Devils have been playing better on the road.
The final game of the season for both team, kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.