By FRANCIS FEDOR
The Stingrays closed out their season with a statement 50-17 road win at Middleton. The Alonzo Ashwood led team and its 9-1 record were rewarded with a #1 seed in the FHSAA 4M bracket and home game vs. Riverview on Friday, Nov. 10.
Sumner opened the game receiving the kickoff, and its opening drive stalled at the Middleton 7, turning the ball over on downs. The Stingrays completed the season scoring first in every game during the 2023 regular season with a 1-yard run by Ronald Wilson Jr. on their second drive of the game. The play was setup by a 22-yard run to put the Sumner offense at the Tiger 1-yard line. The Sumner touchdown was the only scoring in the first quarter. The Stingray defense stepped up on a Tiger drive that threatened to tie up the game, stuffing Middleton at the 1-yard line. The Tigers cracked the scoreboard with a field goal, but as has happened a number of times after an opponent’s scoring, special teams came up big. Stingray returner Malik Brown has done it before, and he did it again with a 97-yard kick-off return for the score, and the ‘Rays took a 14-3 lead to the locker room for halftime.
The Stingrays took control of the game in the third quarter, adding two touchdowns, the first on a score by senior QB Greg Smith III, and then Smith took to the air to connect with Tyler Williams on a 24-yard completion for the TD. Ta’jah Bailey opened the fourth-quarter scoring for Sumner with a 1-yard run to put the Stingrays up 36-3. The teams traded scores to complete the scoring. Sumner QB Smith had maybe his lowest passing output of the season with 39 yards in the air, but he picked up 89 yards using his legs as part of 231-yard night for the rushing game. The defense gave up 237 yards and 12 first downs (also the total first downs for Sumner) but had the big goal line stand early in the game that was a momentum changer.
The Stingrays end the regular season 9-1 with the only blemish being a rainy night on the road against the Durant Cougars that Sumner was winning prior to being suspended until the next morning when the Cougars won on a late TD. The Stingrays enter the playoffs with the momentum of a 4-game winning streak. Sumner is ranked #77 in the state but will open the playoffs against a Riverview team they easily defeated on Oct. 13 by a 40-7 score. Should the ‘Rays hold serve and defeat the Sharks, they will setup a possible rematch with those very same Durant Cougars, who will be playing at 8-2 Palm Harbor in their first-round match-up. The Cougars are the five seed in the bracket where Sumner earned its number one seed. The brackets are set. Let the playoffs begin. The Tank will be rocking on Friday night at 7:30 for the opening round of state playoff action.