TARPON SPRINGS — Like D.J. Bullard — or the rest of the Largo defense, for that matter — needed any additional motivation.
With East Lake facing fourth down and long from midfield in the dying stages of Friday's game, and with rain trickling down onto an already spongy surface, Bullard easily made up a 5-yard gap and sacked quarterback Jackson Rowland to lock down the Packers' 14-12 upset victory.
"The coaches told me before the play, 'We need a sack. Get a sack and the game is over,' " said Bullard, who finished with two sacks and two tackles for loss. "I knew I had to get that sack, not for me but for the team. I was happy to get that opportunity."
That play epitomized the efforts of Largo (1-1). The offense struggled, punting 10 times and putting the Packers' defense behind the 8-ball time and again. But the defense rose up repeatedly and emphatically.
One statistic highlights that domination: East Lake (1-1) started eight drives in Largo territory, three of those inside the 25-yard line, but came away with only three points, a 35-yard Ian Woodward field goal to end the first half. All three of those drives that started inside the 25 ended with turnovers.
"We knew coming into this game that it would be a dogfight," said Packers coach Marcus Paschal. "(Eagles coach) Bob Hudson is not only one of the best coaches in the county, he's one of the best in the country. We knew we'd have to go in and execute."
And execute they did, making quarterback Kyle Wisniewski's 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and Quavon Matthews' electrifying 57-yard punt return for a score early in the second half stand up.
First it was Kion Brown's punishing hit that shook the ball loose from Brion Hillman, allowing Tony Smith Jr. to recover at his 7 with 4:25 left in the third quarter. Then Malcolm Barber pounced on a muffed handoff 21/2 minutes later at the 20. Finally, 31/2 minutes into the final quarter, Isaiah Bellamy snuffed out East Lake's best opportunity by diving on a loose ball at the 4.
"We like to cause a lot of turnovers, a lot of havoc," Bullard said of the defense. "We know we have to go hard to give our offense opportunities. We're a very important aspect of the game."
Despite their red-zone struggles, the Eagles closed to within 14-10 on Joshua Bowers' 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, then 14-12 on an intentional safety with a minute left. With East Lake having two more shots at the winning points, Bullard and the Largo defense closed the door.
"I came in last February after three years at Osceola, and I'm happy I found this team," Bullard, a senior, said. "Things were rocky at first — we're hard on each other — but it's all tough love. We bonded as a team. We have so much talent, and we're not going to go soft. We're keeping out foot on the gas, keep practicing hard. … We're going to act like we lost this game and work even harder. We want to get to the playoffs."