CLEARWATER — Having a good defense means never having to say you’re sorry.
It also means Clearwater Central Catholic is headed to the state semifinals for the second time in school history.
A fourth-down gamble late in Friday’s Class 3A region final against rival Tampa Catholic could have cost the Marauders.It didn’t.
Much like it has done all season, CCC’s defense made the critical stop. The offense did the rest, grinding out a drive to set up Matt Fosnacht’s winning 32-yard field goal to give the Marauders a 10-7 victory.
“The second half we just showed a lot of guts to get something going,” CCC coach John Davis said. “Sometimes you have to reach down deep to pull out a game like this.”
The Marauders (11-1) started off as a depleted bunch. Michael Stevenson, CCC’s top defensive back and a Division I recruit, was unable to play because he was not cleared by trainers after sustaining a concussion a week ago .
In the first half, the Marauders lost full back Domenic James to a knee injury.
The injuries, as well as poor field position, took their toll in the first half. The Crusaders (8-4) went on several long drives. One fell short of a touchdown as the Marauders’ defense stuffed TC quarterback Kyle Ploucher on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line in the first quarter.
The other produced a touchdown as Kenny Bryant ran 3 yards in the second quarter to give the Crusaders a 7-0 lead they took into the half.
In the third quarter, CCC relied heavily on the running game. Trey Larry, the Marauders’ big-play specialist, had the biggest run of the night, taking the pitch around left end 54 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
“I just saw the hole, made something happen and went for the end zone,” said Larry, who finished with 105 yards on six carries.
“Even when we were down, there was no panic from any of us. We just knew we were going to have to step up and do whatever it took to win.”
With a little more than three minutes remaining in regulation , Davis passed on a long field-goal attempt to keep the drive alive on a fourth-down attempt. When Blake Gomez’s pass fell incomplete, Davis could have had the season flash before his eyes.
“We still could have lost the game there, but I have a lot of trust in my defense,” Davis said. “That affords me some opportunities to go for it.”
Hindsight is 20-20, but Davis did not have to worry after the Marauders forced a three-and-out. The Crusaders punted and CCC stuck to a simple game plan of runs up the middle to move in position for Fosnacht’s kick.
“That was the first time I’ve ever had to attempt a game-winning kick, much less a pressure situation like the playoffs,” Fosnacht said.
“I started saying a lot of prayers, and just kept going through my practice kicks to keep my mind off it on the last drive.
“I was nervous for sure, but the snap and hold were perfect. All that was left was for me to do my job. Once the kick went in , it was the most amazing feeling ever.”
TC had one more shot . On a Hail Mary from midfield, Ploucher threw a pass that ricocheted off one receiver and bounced off the hands of another in the end zone.
“It was a dogfight, and I knew it was probably going to come down to one play at the end,” Crusaders coach Bob Henriquez said. “We just had a lot of penalties and miscues in the second half and didn’t finish drives when we needed them.”