LARGO — The first time Largo and St. Petersburg met this season, the outcome was decided by the slimmest of margins, a one-point Packers victory.
That regular-season game was two months ago, and Largo insisted it was a different team back then. The Packers, who were missing three starters, are now healthy and vowed things would be different in the playoffs.
This time, there were no close calls. Largo smothered the Green Devils 30-0 in the Class 5A region semifinals. The Packers will host Punta Gorda Charlotte next week.
"I think the guys were determined for this game," Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said. "They felt like there was some unfinished business."
On the opening possession, St. Petersburg discovered the running lanes that were clear in the regular-season meeting were now blurred into the blue and gold jerseys of the Packers. When quarterback Chris Winiecki handed off to his bevy of backs, a Largo linebacker was waiting to bury them. If Winiecki dropped back to pass, he faced a storm of pressure and further confusion down the field.
St. Petersburg (9-3) started off by punting on its first two drives.
The Packers, meanwhile, had no trouble moving the ball, using their running game to chew up yards on their first two possessions. Both drives ended on short touchdowns runs from Marcel Durham to give Largo a 13-0 lead.
The Packers had a chance to break the game open in the first half. But Largo was stopped on downs inside the Green Devils' 30 and missed a short field goal.
"We weren't playing well in the first half, but we did enough to stay in the game," Green Devils coach Joe Fabrizio said.
Largo (11-1) opened the third with a 70-yard run by Sean Holte that set up a 32-yard field goal from Charles Howe. After that, the rout was on as the Packers punished St. Petersburg with a feisty opportunistic defense.
The Green Devils rarely played from behind this season, and they looked uncomfortable in that predicament. Running plays continued to be stuffed by a phalanx of Packer defenders. In all, St. Petersburg gained 87 total yards and turned the ball over three times.
Toward the end of the third, the Packers tacked on a TD after a 24-yard run by Ryan Eppes. Durham closed out scoring with an 11-yard run in the fourth. Midway through the quarter, St. Petersburg started to lose its cool. The Green Devils were flagged for four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and a player was ejected.
"That was embarrassing," Fabrizio said. "I thought we had gotten away from that stuff. It's something we'll have to learn from.
"I think the experience in the playoffs showed tonight. Largo has been here before and knows what to do in these situations."