Venice to test Largo's district dominance

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Thu. October 17, 2013 | Bob Putnam | Email

Venice to test Largo's district dominance

It started in 2005, when Dexter McCluster — now with the Kansas City Chiefs — ran past defenders on his way to a then-county record 2,490 yards in leading Largo to a district title.

The Packers won a district title the following year, and every year after.

Now, the streak stands at eight straight.

Largo has been on top for so long that it seems as if the postseason cannot go on without the Packers hosting at least one home playoff game. But every team, even the great ones, eventually tumble off their pedestals.

This season, the Packers (5-1, 1-0) might have their most formidable challenge yet to their title reign. Tonight, Largo travels to play Venice (6-1, 1-0) in a Class 6A, District 7 contest that will all but determine the champion.

“We’ll have our hands full, that’s for sure,” Packers coach Rick Rodriguez said. “Venice is a solid team with a real good offensive line and a running back that reminds me a little of Dexter. We’re going to have to play well to win.”

For years, the Indians have been a nemesis for Pinellas County teams, knocking off St. Petersburg (2010), Countryside (2011) and Pinellas Park (2012) in the first round of the playoffs the past three seasons.

The Packers, due to a rash of injuries, have been vulnerable. Largo was shut out by East Lake in Week 2, ending the Packers’ 18-game regular-season win streak. Venice, meanwhile, has been on a roll with five straight wins, including a road victory against traditional power Plano East in Texas.

By now, though, the Packers have become football’s version of a bad guy at the end of a horror movie: beaten, wounded, missing a couple of arms, but inexplicably still alive and swinging.

And that wounded team is starting to get healthy. Quarterback Donavan Hale returned from an ankle injury four weeks ago and has looked sharp in leading Largo to victories over Gibbs and Lakewood. The Packers had their bye a week ago to allow everyone to heal.

So ignore them at your peril.

Photo: Dexter McCluster

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