The Island Coast Gators came into this preseason game eager to start an optimistic campaign to return to the playoffs, a position they narrowly missed last season despite going 7-3.
The Gators pulled away in the second half to post a 42-28 victory over Lehigh Friday night despite a pile of penalties.
An explosive first half ended with the game tied 21-21, featuring a 30-yard touchdown run by the Gators' TJ Johnson, several 30-yard-plus passes by Lehigh QB Da'Vonte White, and more than 100 yards in penalties by the Gators.
The game started well for the Gators when Nick Fasano scooped a fumble on the Lightning 1-yard line and ran it in for the touchdown. The field position was set up by a 44-yard pass by QB Kurt Benkert to Johnson.
The Lightning drove deep into Island Coast territory. After eluding the Gators pass rush, White scrambled and found Hernandez for a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
A 30-yard run by the Gators' Johnson resulted in a touchdown which tied the game at 14-14.
A 30-yard toss by White to Dezeme lifted Lehigh to a 21-14 lead.
With 26 seconds remaining in the half, the Gators tied the game on a 10-yard toss to Bitavious Shannon in the corner of the end zone.
After the second half kickoff, Island Coast's offense and defense began to clamp down. Lehigh's lone score came on a 70-yard kickoff return by Quashae Cobb.
The Gators defense shut down Lehigh's passing game. The offensive line provided plenty of opportunities for Johnson and Calhoun to run the ball.
With time, Benkert settled down and became more efficient, distributing the ball to multiple Gators receivers.
"I've got to give much love to the offensive line," said Gators runningback Devon Calhoun. "They played well tonight."
Calhoun rushed for 180 yards, including a touchdown.
The stellar performances by the Gators offensive and defensive teams were clouded by an excess of penalties.
"I'm happy we won and scored a lot of points, but we were atrocious on penalties," said Gators coach Joe Bowen. "We need to work on that."
The Gators was flagged 17 times for more than 200 total yards, including one penalty which negated a touchdown.
TJ Johnson had nearly 200 yards combined rushing and receiving yards.
The Gators open the season next Friday night in Orlando against Fort Lauderdale University School.