CLEARWATER — Clearwater Central Catholic and Miami Westminster Christian displayed fancy formations and explosive playmakers, all founded on run production.
And no one had a more memorable carry in Friday's Class 3A state semifinal than the Marauders' Diquan Walker. With 39 seconds remaining in a scoreless game, the senior running back took a pitch, followed a convoy of blockers and dove just inside the pylon on a 23-yard touchdown to lift CCC to a 7-0 victory.
The Marauders (11-2) advance to their first state championship game and will play Jacksonville Trinity Christian (11-1) on Dec. 7 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
"It was the scariest play of my life," Walker said. "I didn't think anything would be there. But I had great blocking and it turned out to be the greatest moment I've ever had."
Both teams ran the ball with vigor throughout the game. Lineman and linebackers stepped forward to stop them. Even pass defenders were cheating toward the line of scrimmage in support of run defense.
It was basic, old-school football that featured big-time runners who had a hard time gaining any traction. CCC's best play of the second half came at the end when it drove from its 44-yard line to Westminster's 23.
At the time, Davis was thinking more about pounding the ball up the middle to grind up a few yards, as well as most of the clock before settling on a potential winning field goal.
But after a timeout, he decided to take a chance with the sweep.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to get the ball at the end," Walker said. "I thought we were just playing for the field goal. But Coach is an all-or-nothing kind of guy and he went big there and it paid off."
In the first half the Marauders wasted their best scoring opportunity when Jeff Smith rolled out on first and goal from the 5-yard line and threw an interception in the end zone.
"It was tough because I made a big mistake," Smith said. "But I knew not to get down because my teammates would have my back."
The defense was particularly big in stopping a Westminster team that entered averaging 40 points and 467 yards per game. CCC allowed just 177 yards and held the Warriors scoreless for the first time all season.
Westminster quarterback Hunter Boyett, who had thrown for 2,767 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, was 5-of-16 for 38 yards Friday night.
Boyett couldn't stay comfortable in the pocket due to a fierce pass rush by the Marauders, who recorded four sacks — two by defensive lineman and Florida recruit Justus Reed.
It was the defense that came through — again — after Walker scored. Westminster got the ball back at its 33-yard line with 33 seconds remaining. Boyett threw two incomplete passes before being intercepted on third down by Blake Gomez, CCC's former starting quarterback who moved to receiver and was playing defensive back at the end of game in place of an injured Demetri Royer (broken collarbone).
"It felt like the ball just came down from heaven," Gomez said. "JT (Steele) made a great play and the ball fell into my hands. I couldn't ask for a better way to end a game like this."
All the Marauders had to do after that was to take a knee — then celebrate.
The win means CCC coach John Davis will be in his first state championship game in his 20th season as a head coach in Pinellas County.
"I'm walking on a cloud right now," Davis said. "This is the dream of every kid or coach who has ever been involved in high school football. I'm just so fortunate to have the opportunity to get there.
"But this moment isn't for me. It's for these kids. We may not be the best team. But this team has heart and gave everything it had to win this game."