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Football: Largo 22, Venice 21

Largo’s Donavan Hale (4) does his best to avoid a tackle by Venice’s Jarrod Hewitt.

MATT HOUSTON | Special to the Times

Largo’s Donavan Hale (4) does his best to avoid a tackle by Venice’s Jarrod Hewitt.

VENICE — Largo's district title reign seemed all but over. The Packers trailed Venice by seven Friday and were 36 yards from the end zone.

There was time for only one play. Largo quarterback Donavan Hale used his feet to buy time before launching a desperation pass that sailed into the hands of Reggie Campbell for a touchdown as time expired in regulation.

All that was needed was the extra point to send the game to overtime.

The Indians jumped offsides. That's when Packers coach Rick Rodriguez decided to gamble.

Instead of kicking the extra point, Largo went for two. Jarvis Stewart took a direct snap and raced two defenders to dive into the right corner of the end zone to give the Packers a 22-21 win in a Class 6A, District 7 game with serious playoff implications.

Largo needs to beat Dixie Hollins next week to win its ninth straight district title.

"This is the greatest comeback I've ever been associated with in all my years of coaching," Rodriguez said.

The rally was reminiscent of the one the Packers had last year in a season-opening win against Bradenton Southeast. In that game, Campbell caught the winning touchdown as time expired and Stewart ran in the two-point conversion for the win.

"The win we had right now against Venice is way better," Campbell said. "There was a lot more at stake, and we had to come back a lot more in this one."

The Indians (6-2, 1-1) started strong, going on a 12-play drive on their opening possession that was capped by Terry Polk's 8-yard run for a touchdown to give the Indians a 7-0 lead.

Largo (6-1, 2-0), meanwhile, struggled on offense. The Packers' first possession ended with a three-and-out. On the punt, the ball sailed over Stewart's head resulting in a 16-yard loss.

Largo's four other first-half drives ended with two punts, a lost fumble and an interception. But the Packers stayed in the game thanks to an opportunistic defense, as well a few breaks.

Venice kicker Stone Wilson missed field-goal attempts from 43 and 26 yards. The Indians also lost two fumbles, both inside the Packers' 30-yard line.

At the start of the third Largo went on an 11-play drive that ended with Stewart scoring on a 5-yard run to tie the game at 7.

But the Packers lost the momentum later in the third when Raheem Harvey fumbled on a punt return that was recovered by Venice's Benjamin Chisolm, who raced 32 yards to give the Indians a 14-7 lead.

In the fourth quarter, Venice scored again as Polk ran 60 yards to make it 21-7.

The Packers drove midway through the fourth on a drive that ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down at Venice's 11. That seemed to squash any hope of a comeback with 3:58 remaining.

But Largo forced the Indians to punt. Hale stood in the pocket, delivering strikes on a drive that ended with him scoring on an 8-yard run to cut the deficit to 21-14.

On Venice's next drive, the clock stopped three times on a delay of game penalty, a timeout and Polk running out of bounds on third down. The Indians punted. Five plays later, Hale delivered on his Hail Mary.

"I wasn't even throwing to anyone in particular," Hale said. "I just knew there were four receivers in the area and had faith that someone would come down with it."

That set up the two-point conversion.

"We never doubted that we could come back," Stewart said. "When they jumped offsides and we went for two, I knew it was over. There was no way I was not getting in the end zone."

Football: Largo 22, Venice 21 10/19/13 [Last modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 12:45am]

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