CLEARWATER — As Clearwater Central Catholic exited the field at halftime of Friday’s Class 3A region final against St. Petersburg Catholic, an uncomfortable familiarity undoubtedly crept into the Marauders’ psyche.
Just like in the teams’ regular-season matchup, a script unfolded in the first half of the playoff rematch: CCC jumped to a big lead, then SPC gained its composure, engineered a couple of scoring drives and gained momentum.
In the sequel, however, the Marauders left little doubt which was the better team.
CCC outscored the Barons 28-0 after halftime in a convincing 49-16 victory that sends the Marauders to the state semifinals (Class 3A) for the third time, and second season in a row.
“It’s not supposed to be easy, and it certainly wasn’t tonight,” CCC coach John Davis said.
The first half wasn’t according to plan, but the second half was all CCC (10-2). After fumbling on its opening drive of the half deep in Barons’ territory, the Marauders regrouped. The next time they had the ball, they marched 67 yards in five plays, most of it on a 53-yard completion from Jeff Smith to John Brunner. Diquan Walker (15 carries, 157 yards) had a 5-yard touchdown run to put CCC ahead 28-16.
The Marauders forced a three and out, and the offense again took advantage, extending the lead to 35-16 on a 10-yard scoring run for Walker.
“We came out of halftime serious and ready to play,” Walker said. “We stopped making mistakes.”
SPC (8-4) turned the ball over on downs near midfield on its next drive, and two plays later Walker had his career-high fourth touchdown on a 42-yard burst up the middle.
CCC held the Barons to 40 yards after halftime, minus-10 yards rushing. CCC gained 258 yards in the second half. Eric Davis had the Marauders’ final score on a 18-yard carry.
“They were loading the box and basically daring us to pass, and we haven’t developed our passing game,” SPC coach Steve Dudley said.
After falling behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, St. Petersburg Catholic turned to a big play, a 66-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep by Jaquan Fuller, to get back in it.
The Barons cut into the lead with a 32-yard field goal by Matt Spelich, then Markus Ruppell blocked a CCC punt at the Marauders’ 40 near halftime. Jack Sheehan hit Ruppell on a 21-yard strike in the middle of the end zone with 22 seconds left to send the Barons into halftime down 21-16 after a failed 2-point conversion.
A 4-yard punt on the Barons’ opening drive of the game set CCC up in the red zone, and Walker rushed off left tackle for a 2-yard score and 7-0 lead. Later Smith kept it on a zone-read play and ran untouched for a 37-yard touchdown. On the Marauders’ next drive, set up by another short punt, Connor Dorris scored from 3 yards for a 21-0 CCC lead.
“We just got off to a real slow, flat start,” Dudley said. “That certainly didn’t help.”