CLEARWATER — Kyle Ploucher’s head swiveled back and forth, looking for an open receiver on a defensive horizon littered with Clearwater Central Catholic Marauders.
With his receivers usually covered, Ploucher kept moving his feet, but the Tampa Catholic quarterback had nowhere to run. Crusaders running backs also met the same fate as they were greeted by a wall of pads on every handoff.
This is what CCC’s defense does best. It hems in quarterbacks, stripping them of their options until they make a mistake. And it corrals running backs, limiting their ability to break anything big.
On Friday, the Marauders’ defense was perhaps the biggest factor in a 27-7 victory in a key Class 3A, District 5 game.
“We’re not overpowering on defense,” CCC coach John Davis said. “We just have a lot of guys that can hustle and flat-out get to the football.”
Since allowing 36 points in a season-opening loss to East Lake, the Marauders (5-1, 1-0) have allowed just 14 points combined in their past five games, including three shutouts.
Friday’s performance might have been the most impressive considering the Crusaders (5-1, 1-1) entered averaging 28 points per game.
But Tampa Catholic struggled to generate anything on offense. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Crusaders had just 43 yards and were on the verge of being shut out for the first time this season.
“They’re explosive,” Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez said of CCC. “They got some turnovers early and took advantage of that.”
Early on, the Crusaders got the first break, pouncing on a fumbled punt return by Trey Larry deep inside Marauders’ territory. But Tampa Catholic missed a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter.
After that, CCC showed off its big-play capabilities as Blake Gomez hit Larry on a 69-yard touchdown pass to put the Marauders ahead 7-0. In the second quarter, CCC running back Diquan Walker ripped off a 57-yard run to make it 14-0.
Moments later, Marauders linebacker Kyle Brittain stepped in front of a Ploucher pass and returned the interception to TC’s 12-yard line.
On the next play, Gomez found Troy Olmo on a scoring pass to increase CCC’s lead to 21-0. Matt Fosnacht added a 21-yard field goal late in the second quarter to make the score 24-0 Marauders at the half.
In the fourth quarter, Ploucher ran 7 yards for a score to cut the deficit to 24-7. Fosnacht added a late field goal to round out the scoring.
The Crusaders finished with 55 yards of offense and had two turnovers, plus were stopped on downs once.
“I can’t say enough about the way the defense played,” Davis said. “They got us out of some jams early on. And it came against a team that’s so big and (has) so many athletes. But really our defense has been playing like this all year.”