CLEARWATER — For nearly a half, Clearwater Central Catholic dominated St. Petersburg Catholic, building a big enough lead that the Marauders’ seventh straight victory over their biggest county rival seemed a foregone conclusion.
In the second half, things changed. The Marauders, who were ahead 28-0 late in the second quarter, started turning the ball over. They committed penalties. They dropped passes.
Suddenly, CCC had to sweat it out.
But it got two big plays late, one a 99-yard touchdown run, to seal a 35-14 victory.
“We’re young and a little immature,” Marauders coach John Davis said. “We got ahead, and we got lax. You do that, and you can get beat.”
Early on, CCC’s defense set the tone, stopping the Barons’ first drive on downs. The Marauders capitalized as quarterback Jeff Smith capped a drive with an 8-yard run to give them a 7-0 lead.
On the Marauders’ next possession, Conner Dorris ran 3 yards for a score to make it 14-0.
In the second quarter, CCC (5-1, 2-0 Class 3A, District 5) added to its lead as Diquan Walker scored on a 3-yard run and Blake Gomez threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to John Brunner. It was 28-0, and the rout was on.
One fumble, though, changed momentum.
In the final minute of the first half, Smith was hit from behind. Elevesi Halapio picked up the fumble and ran 50 yards for a touchdown for SPC, cutting the deficit to 28-7.
The Marauders started the second half with another fumble. Again, the Barons turned the turnover into a touchdown, Tony Jones 24-yard run, to make it 28-14.
SPC’s defense, particularly its frontline, stuffed CCC drives in the second half. The Marauders had a bobbled snap on a punt and lost two fumbles.
“We couldn’t get out of our own shadow in the second half,” Davis said. “It’s a reflection of how we practiced. To be honest, St. Petersburg Catholic probably outplayed us most of the game.”
But the Barons (3-2, 1-1) didn’t get closer. SPC turned the ball over on downs once, lost a fumble and threw an interception, all after getting inside the CCC 40.
The last turnover came on an interception by Ethan Thompson at the 1.
Two plays later, CCC sealed the game on a 99-yard touchdown run by freshman CJ Cotman.
“It was just an incredible run,” said Cotman, who finished with 145 yards on three carries. “I never thought I’d be able to go that far. I thought maybe I’d get a few yards. I just ran one direction and kept running.”