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TAMPA — Over and over again, Bloomingdale sent Eugene Baker into the unforgiving belly of the Tampa Catholic defense.
Sometimes Baker would bust loose for big run. But most times, the Crusaders would swarm him at the line of scrimmage.
A driving rain and swampy turf made this brute game plan imperative. The contest unfolded between the tackles, in the middle of the field, a few short and choppy steps at a time, and with few exceptions.
In the end, Bloomingdale’s workhorse simply wasn’t enough.
Tampa Catholic limited Bloomingdale to 163 yards of offense, Kyle Ploucher threw two touchdown passes and the Crusaders withstood a late rally to pull out a 12-7 victory Friday night.
“Sometimes you have to win ugly like that,” Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez said.
Baker, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior, finished with 102 yards on 26 carries. Fourteen of his rushes went for a yard or less, and his longest run of the night went for 23 yards.
At the end of the game, his white uniform was almost completely stained with mud — the No. 3 on his jersey was barely visible. Baker said nothing and went down to a knee as teammates gathered for the postgame speech from their coaches.
“He’s what allows us to stay in ball games,” Bloomingdale coach John Booth said.
After outscoring their first three opponents by a combined score of 99-15, the Crusaders (4-0) finally found themselves in a close game in the fourth quarter.
Unable to muster much offense, Tampa Catholic relied heavily on a defense that extended its streak of shutout quarters to 11 until Bloomingdale’s offense finally got going late in the game.
The Bulls (2-2) opened the fourth quarter with their longest completion of the game: a 15-yard throw from McIntyre to Daniel Sedano.
Baker then reeled off runs of 6, minus-2, 3, 13 and 0 yards and McIntyre finished the 11-play drive with a 12-yard throw to tight end Logan Crouse, cutting Tampa Catholic’s lead to 12-7.
On the ensuing possession, Ploucher fumbled the snap and the Bulls recovered at the Crusader 46. There was a little less than eight minutes remaining.
Baker rushed for 9 yards on the next play. His running totals for the rest of the game: 0, minus-2 and 0.
A few plays later, McIntyre ended the possession with his third interception of the night and Tampa Catholic never allowed the Bulls on their side of the field again.
“Unfortunately, we waited too late to turn it on,” Booth said. “But it was so wet and nasty out here … throwing the ball was like trying to throw a wet bar of soap.”
McIntrye, in only his third varsity start, finished 7-of-19 for 52 yards.
As a result, the Crusaders didn’t need much offense to pull out the win. They didn’t get much either.
Tampa Catholic finished with 264 yards of offense — about 80 fewer than its average. Kenny Bryant rushed for a team-leading 76 yards on 23 carries, and T.J. Harrell added 59 rushing yards on nine carries and an interception in the third quarter.
“It was tough to get anything going tonight,” Henriquez said.