TARPON SPRINGS — As the season’s first 24 minutes expired Friday night, East Lake found itself thwarted by sweeps, shovel passes, sneaks, even some self-infliction.
What the Eagles may or may not have realized at that point was, their opponent was being thwarted by something far less visible.
“We just ran out of gas,” Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis said.
Operating virtually at will in a nearly flawless first half, the Class 3A Marauders were operating on fumes by game’s end. Pouncing on CCC’s fatigue, East Lake ran almost exclusively in the second half to rally for a 36-21 home triumph.
Trailing 21-3 at one point in the first half, the Eagles (1-0) gained 235 of their 281 rushing yards after halftime, with converted linebacker Weston Fordham enjoying a breakthrough night (17 carries, 128 yards, one touchdown). CCC, meantime, had two first downs in the second half.
“They were starting to cramp up and we saw that so we decided to take advantage of that and keep going at it,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. “They had a good game plan … so you just have to keep moving things around and be patient, try to find some things that work and go with it.”
The Marauders’ cramps were preceded by crispness. Junior quarterback Blake Gomez completed all nine of his first-half passes, the biggest of which was a simple screen on third and 14 that classmate Diquan Walker turned into a 47-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
East Lake had to settle for a Daniel LaCamera 27-yard field goal on the ensuing possession after a false start on third and goal from the 6. On CCC’s ensuing possession, Gomez capped a 65-yard drive with a 3-yard toss to Troy Olmo, giving the guests a 14-3 lead.
Domenic James made it 21-3 on a 1-yard keeper with 3:34 to go in the first half. By intermission, UCF-bound East Lake quarterback Pete DiNovo had only six more passing yards (66) than his team had penalty yards, and the Eagles trailed 21-9.
It prompted what Hudson called a halftime “fireside chat.”
“We were doing some things that were uncharacteristic,” he said. “I don’t know how many penalties we had for lining up offsides, not being able to line up in a formation, things where they weren’t just focused mentally, so we just had to get them straightened out.”
East Lake drove 67 yards in 11 plays to open the second half, capped by Dylan Renaker’s 1-yard run. On their next drive, the Eagles gained all 70 of their yards on the ground, ending with DiNovo’s 5-yard run, giving the hosts a 22-21 lead.
Fordham and Drew Cuoto each tacked on another rushing touchdown. CCC, meantime, finished with 52 total yards in the second half as Davis watched several of his skill guys — most of whom pull double duty — cramp up.
“They just pretty much wore us down physically,” he said. “It’s like a slow death and you can’t do anything to stop it.”