Largo in line for eighth straight district title

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Thu. October 25, 2012 | Bob Putnam | Email

Largo in line for eighth straight district title

LARGO — They have played in different classifications, against difficult competition. They have withstood the graduation of several star players, some of whom are now in the NFL. They have persevered through devastating season-ending injuries.

Yet for nearly a decade, the Largo Packers have found a way to ratchet up the intensity when the games matter most. Friday, Largo (7-0, 3-0) plays at Bradenton Lakewood Ranch with the Class 6A, District 7 title on the line. If the Packers win, it will be their eighth straight district title and 30th consecutive district victory, both county records.

“It’s been a tremendous run,” Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said. “Whatever changes we go through, we find a way to get it done.”

At the beginning of the season, there were lingering questions about whether the Packers could maintain their streak. How would Largo’s small, inexperienced offensive and defensive lines hold up? How would the Packers fare without a strong kicking game? How much would a lack of depth take its toll?

The questions were valid before the season, but have mostly vanished since Largo has established its customary residence atop the district standings. The Packers are cruising toward another title, but cruising in a different way. The reliance on a devastating run game has been complemented by an awesome passing attack.

After all those years watching backs such as Dexter McCluster (Ole Miss/Kansas City Chiefs) and Brynn Harvey (UCF) pile up yards in record-setting fashion, fans are now watching pinball offense.

Juwan Brown has been electric at quarterback, using his feet, as well as his arm, to score points in bunches.

But Brown is a game-time decision after bruising his shoulder in last week’s win over Boca Ciega. No matter. Donavan Hale will get the start and has plenty of deep threats at his disposal, including Raheem Harvey and Reggie Campbell.

“Juwan said he could play, but we want to be safe and go this route,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll see how Juwan is doing and decide whether he gets in the game or not.”

Injuries are nothing new to Largo, who have seen plenty of players banged up over the past three seasons, including Brown in 2010. That year, the Packers learned the single-wing offense on the fly and used it to wrap up their sixth district title.

“Our coaches have been a big part of our success, too,” Rodriguez said. “We have a lot of continuity on our staff.”

Every coach on the current staff has been part of Largo’s eight-year district run.

Another factor is the abundance of playmakers. If Hale struggles throwing tonight, he can always hand off to Jarvis Stewart, who scored four touchdowns last week. Derrick Doss is always capable of returning a kick for a score. And the defense, led by Harry Brown, can turn turnovers into touchdowns.

“It’s just a tradition we have here of winning district titles,” Brown said. “We have so much talent that comes through here. And we have a lot of athletes who can play any skill position. It’s just a matter of us working hard to keep it going.”

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@tampabay.com

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