TAMPA — Just when Tampa Catholic needed breathing room, Conner Louis took the air out of Orlando Lake Highland Prep, sending the Crusaders to their third consecutive state semifinals.
Louis, playing his first game at linebacker, scored on a 91-yard interception return to repel a Lake Highland Prep rally as Tampa Catholic won 31-21 Friday night.
"We going to state, win it all and get that ring," said Louis, a senior who usually plays receiver and safety.
Louis' key play came with 3:37 left after Henry McCloud (164 yards on 17 carries) had given Tampa Catholic the lead at 17-14 on a 64-yard sprint on the preceding series. Bobby Borcky, Lake Highland Prep's 1,000-yard passer, drove the Highlanders to the Tampa Catholic 14. But Borcky's next pass was picked by Louis, who returned it for a 24-14 edge.
"(Coaches) told me to watch the running back, so I just stuck on him," Louis said. "I guess (Lake Highland Prep) thought he was going out and it was just where I was. The ball hit me right on the chest."
Louis was at linebacker because Carson Bomar, called "one of our headiest defenders" by Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez, was sidelined in the first half with a sprained ankle.
"We were scrambling to solidify the secondary," Henriquez said. "Conner made a great play. I have to applaud the efforts of (all) the guys. It wasn't easy."
Quarterback Christian Green contributed 104 yards on 15 carries for Tampa Catholic, which was defeated by Gulliver Prep in the 2008 state semis and Madison County in the 2007 final. Lakeland Highland Prep lost 1,000-yard runner Zack McCarrell to an ankle injury on the game's first play.