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CLEARWATER — Amid the predictions, the hype, the overwhelming anticipation and the unexpected, there is plenty you can count on in tonight’s Class 3A region final between Tampa Catholic and Clearwater Central Catholic.
This clash of district rivals will swing on ball possession. It will swing on turnovers. It will be peppered with big hits and special teams play and coaching creativity and success or failure in the red zone, huge factors all.
It has been said many times before, but it’s true: The winner must be able to run the football and adeptly stop the run.
There is something else, however, that may prove critical in this rematch: big plays.
And that is what the Marauders’ Trey Larry is known for producing.
The long gainers that come by air often are a thing of beauty. Larry races downfield, speeds past his defender, soars and makes the grab. He jukes and shakes and runs past opponents.
On kickoffs and punts, Larry slices through wedges, spinning away from defenders and wending around the field on ankle-breaking runbacks.
On handoffs, well, you get the picture.
This season, Larry has touched the ball 42 times and gained 983 yards, a whopping 23.4 yards per play.
“That’s what I have?” Larry said in disbelief after glancing at his statistics in the coaches’ office this week. “That’s impressive.”
“We’re going to have to get Trey a bigger helmet after seeing that,” coach John Davis quipped.
There is no denying Larry has provided game-changing plays. Take the first meeting against Tampa Catholic. Larry touched the ball just once — a reception that went for 70 yards and a touchdown to give the Marauders a comfortable first-half lead.
“It’s pretty remarkable how many times Trey has been able to break something big for us,” Davis said. “That also shows how bad we are as coaches for not getting him the ball more.”
There are times when the Marauders stick almost exclusively to the ground as if they are trying to win a state title 4 yards at a time. Those are the times Larry might one get pass or a single handoff.
He usually makes the most of them. He has just five carries this season but is averaging 26.6 yards and has scored twice. He has a team-leading 15 receptions for 311 yards, a 20.8 average, and has scored four times He also has four touchdowns on returns, and nearly as many that would have gone for scores were they not called back on penalties.
“I’m not looking for any more carries or catches,” Larry said. “I’m just trying to play within the system. But if I do get the ball, I’m going to try to do the most with it and make something big happen.”
So electric is Larry with the ball in his hands that the Marauders are trying more ways to deploy their most dynamic weapon.
“We’re going to try to line up Trey in a lot of different spots and see if we can’t find a way to put the ball in his hands more,” Davis said.
Because CCC tends to be conservative, content to run the ball, rely on its suffocating defense and limit any risk of a turnover, its region final game could be decided by one or two breakthrough plays.
Larry may be the most logical candidate to run the Marauders past their rival and into the state semifinals for the second time in school history.
“If I get the ball, I want to get into the end zone,” Larry said. “It would be nice to score in this one. After all, it’s a big game, and it’s my senior year.”