ST. PETERSBURG – Tarpon Springs kept Lakewood within its reach, had striking opportunities, but couldn’t quite catch up Friday night.

The Spongers had a chance to win the Class 5A District 9 championship outright but fell behind early and never got on the board, losing 21-0.

“We didn’t have to play amazing to win we just needed a clean game,” said Tarpon Springs coach George Kotis. “They’re beatable and we shot ourselves in the foot repeatedly.”

All 21 points were scored in the first half Friday. Tarpon Springs worked its way inside the Lakewood 10 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half when Lakewood wrapped up the night’s scoring.

Spartans junior Marques Tampa stepped in front of Adam Hardy’s pass into the end zone and took it 100 yards to the house.

Tarpon Springs ran one second-half play inside Lakewood territory – at the 49-yard line in the third quarter – and never got closer than its own 32 after.

The Spongers found themselves in contention for the District 5A-9 title after league frontrunner Gibbs was forced to forfeit games, including the Gladiators’ 20-7 win over the Tarpon Springs.

Lakewood’s win combined with Gibbs’ 46-3 victory at Dunedin sets up a three-way tie atop the district.

Under the old system, that would mean Gibbs, Lakewood and Tarpon Springs would settle things on the field. The new system simply relies on the Florida High School Athletic Association’s power ranking point average. Tarpon Springs entered Friday leading Gibbs and Lakewood, but the Spartans will jump ahead after the 21-0 win.

Even if there isn’t mathematical hope to jump Lakewood again next week, the Spongers are in position to still qualify for the playoffs.

Both teams’ Week 11 opponents are 7-2: Tarpon Springs takes on Mitchell and Lakewood plays Largo. The winner will get 48 points because their opponent will drop to 7-3 and into “Category 2” of the point system. The loser will get 38 points because their opponent will stay in “Category 1” of the point system.

“We definitely still have a chance,” Kotis said. “That’s really what we’re fighting for. We wanted the championship, obviously.”

The Tarpon Springs football program and community has been getting through a difficult, emotional period with the recent passing of Kotis’ wife, Artemis. The coach and Tarpon Springs native said that it was heartening to see how his young team responded to that kind of non-football situation.

“They’re a young team, but they came together so well after the death of my wife,” Kotis said. “I could see them grow up and mature a little bit.”