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5A football: Largo 59, Punta Gorda Charlotte 17

LARGO — For two weeks, a sublime monotony had descended over the football season at Packers Stadium.

Largo's two previous playoff games had been devoid of challenge and mystery. The first few rounds of the postseason appeared to be an interminable warmup for a potential state semifinal rematch against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, where the stakes and emotions would finally run high.

Packers coach Rick Rodriguez admitted his team's vast potential, but decided to withhold his stamp of approval until it was confronted with capable opposition.

The challenge finally came when Friday's 59-17 victory over Punta Gorda Charlotte in the Class 5A region final was a tenuous 31-17 lead early in the third quarter. Largo responded with four unanswered touchdowns and a quick-strike proficiency that may be unmatched.

"I've never seen anything like what we did (tonight)," Rodriguez said. "That's the first time we scored 50 points since I've been here."

The Packers scored seven of their eight touchdowns on drives that lasted no longer than two minutes. Five consumed fewer than 90 seconds.

What this signals is extraordinary efficiency. Largo quarterback Ryan Eppes completed 12 of 17 passes for three touchdowns and 285 yards. Receivers Myrick Gwynn and Mike Lang sliced the Tarpons' secondary, combining to catch eight passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns.

Tailback Marcel Durham delivered three touchdowns and 94 yards on 16 carries. The Packers rolled up 450 total yards — 10.7 per play — and have scored 131 points in three playoff games, a school record.

"When we're clicking, we're tough to beat," Eppes said.

None of Largo's scoring excursions were more impressive or urgent than an eight-play, 73-yard drive early in the second half and a four-play, 53-yard drive on its next possession that finally subdued a troublesome Charlotte team that had made Rodriguez nervous and left his defense curiously vulnerable.

"We got some big plays, especially from our passing game," Rodriguez said. "That's probably the most we've passed in a game in a long time."

Using its running game, Charlotte unnerved Largo to come within two scores at 31-17 early in the third quarter.

For the first time in the playoffs, the Packers heard footsteps. This is what Rodriguez had wanted to see. How would his team react? Just as he expected, no doubt.

On Largo's next possession, it scored. Then it scored again. And again.

The knockout came on a combination punch early in the fourth quarter. Eppes scored on a 22-yard run and linebacker Shawn Holte scooped up a fumble and ran 66 yards for the final score.

"We knew we could work a little with the passing game," Lang said. "Now, we have everything going at just the right time."


5A football: Largo 59, Punta Gorda Charlotte 17 12/05/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:11pm]
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