ST. PETERSBURG — Clearwater Central Catholic was the last team standing in a slugfest that came down to the final play Friday. The Marauders forced a fumble inside their own 5-yard line and stopped St. Petersburg Catholic twice within the final two minutes to stave off defeat, winning 28-23.
"We knew we were in for a battle. … These kids just came to play," said CCC coach Mike Jalazo. "We made some mistakes, they made some mistakes, and we were able to capitalize."
The Barons were undone by miscues, as seniors Chris McKay and Keelyan Bryant's performances were overshadowed by their costly turnovers. McKay threw two interceptions inside the Marauders' 30-yard line in the first half. He finished 8-of-16 for 64 yards.
Clearwater Central Catholic used a stifling defense and a balanced offensive attack to take a 14-7 halftime lead. Justin Goodloe helped the Marauders take advantage of a bad long snap, capping a 31-yard drive with a bruising 1-yard blast. Quarterback Nick Newton added his own 1-yard touchdown run.
"We needed to establish the run game," said Newton, who finished with 78 yards passing and two total touchdowns. "We knew it would open up the passing game. … They are a very good team with a very good quarterback and a very good defense."
Each team scored twice in the second half, and the Barons began a sustained drive with 8:36 to play. They took the ball 70 yards on 14 plays. However, the drive ended when Bryant, who carried 24 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns, fumbled at the Marauders' 3-yard line.
"It shouldn't ever come down to one play," said Barons coach Tod Creneti. "You'd like to think that if you do the little things well enough and you take care of the football then you're going to be all right. But CCC's smart and they're opportunistic. They made those (turnovers) hurt."
After the Marauders recovered, Newton intentionally took a safety on fourth and inches. Following the free kick, St. Petersburg Catholic's last-chance effort of multiple laterals fell short.