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On the eve of a crucial district game against Sickles, Largo has learned it will play the rest of the season without standout fullback and linebacker Sean Holte.
Holte tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee last week, getting hit by a Gibbs player on his way down from going after a third quarter pass. Holte was also not helped by a soggy field.
It is a devastating loss for Largo, 3-0 heading into its Class 4A-10 opener.
Holte is not only the team leader, but he was a Player of the Year candidate and one of the top three players in Pinellas County. Holte had yet to find his groove at fullback (178 yards, two touchdowns) this season but is arguably the county's best linebacker. The Packers' run defense will receive a stiff test from Sickles' Carey White, Hillsborough County's leading rusher this season.
The Packers still have enough talent to make the postseason, and should, but another deep playoff run -- Largo made it to the Class 5A state semifinals each of the past two seasons -- becomes much more difficult.
Junior Dylan Rubino and freshman Derrick Doss will be called upon to step in for Holte, who has a college offer from Colorado State and was first-team All-County the past two seasons.
Other notes from Largo:
Jamar Riley will start at QB for Largo. The sophomore started last week and threw and ran for over 100 yards. He has bounced back after a rough opener against Dunedin, where transfer Alex Skinner threw for four TDs to tak the lead in Largo's Hot Hand Offense. But Skinner struggled in the next game against East Lake and Riley took over in the second half and rallied Largo to a win, earning the start last week against Gibbs. Largo won't hesitate to go back to Skinner though if Riley can't move the offense against a Sickles defense that has allowed only 34 points.
This may be the biggest game in Sickles short history, but don't expect Largo to be fazed. The Packers hosted No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas in a state semifinal in 2007, and then traveled to Fort Lauderdale for a rematch last season.
"Every team we play, that's their attitude so we are used to that,'' coach Rick Rodriguez says. "We've been in these games before. It's big. We have got to get this one here. The kids know the importance of it.''
Class 4A-10 has Sickles, Largo, Bogie and Leto in it. So it's fair to say this game is between the top two teams in the district, and the winner -- particularly if it's Largo -- will have a massive edge in the battle for first place.
"This looks like this might be for the championship right here,'' said Rodriguez, whose squad has won four straight district titles. "We don't want to be runnerup.''
Rodriguez hasn't coached against a Hillsborough team since he's been at Largo. The last time he did, he was an assistant coach at Clearwater.
In 1999, his last season with the Tornadoes, Clearwater beat Plant 28-3 in a Class 4A playoff game at Dads Stadium.