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Football: Strawberry Crest 35, East Bay 14

Clay Cullins (9) and Chris Perez celebrate after Perez’s TD, one of his two in the first half. He added a third in the fourth quarter.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Clay Cullins (9) and Chris Perez celebrate after Perez’s TD, one of his two in the first half. He added a third in the fourth quarter.

DOVER — Strawberry Crest just capped off one of its biggest victories in program history — a 35-14 triumph over East Bay where the Chargers dominated defensively, played their best second half of the season and nearly sewed up their first playoff appearance.

And still, coach John Kelly wasn't happy. His Chargers were too busy posing for photos in front of the team huddle and scoreboard Friday in stead of focusing on the task ahead.

"Hey, how about we take a picture next week after we win?" Kelly said.

But Strawberry Crest (6-2, 3-0) had plenty to celebrate on senior night. By beating East Bay (5-3, 1-1), the Chargers set a school record in victories, remained atop Class 7A, District 8 and guaranteed at least an appearance in a playoff tiebreaker.

The Chargers did so with strong defense from the start. Division I recruit Alex Carswell recovered a fumble on East Bay's second play from scrimmage, setting up the first of Chris Perez's three touchdown runs.

"I can't say enough about our defense," Kelly said. "Not many teams in this county defensively are better than us."

Perez followed that up with a 44-yard touchdown rush on the next drive before East Bay answered. The Indians scored their only offensive touchdown late in the first quarter on Chris Greene's 60-yard rush and added a pick-six moments later by senior Leondre Boykin.

The Chargers stole momentum before the half when quarterback Austin Carswell launched a third-down pass to his older brother, Alex, who soared for an 18-yard touchdown catch to give his team a 19-14 lead it never relinquished.

East Bay fumbled the kickoff to start the half and never recovered mentally.

The Indians ran 17 plays in the second half. Only three gained positive yards, while four ended in sacks.

As the Indians' offense sputtered, Strawberry Crest's offense began to click when it mattered most. Perez rushed for 25 of his game-high 110 yards on a fake punt to keep one drive alive.

In the fourth quarter, Josh Hyde streaked for a 35-yard catch to convert on fourth down, setting up Perez's 1-yard rush. Two drives later, Austin Carswell hit his older brother again on a 35-yard jump ball touchdown pass to ice the game.

Despite his team's success and the high stakes, Kelly was reluctant to call the victory one of the best in program history. All Friday night does is set up next week — a district showdown against rival Plant City that could vault his Chargers to new heights.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

Football: Strawberry Crest 35, East Bay 14 10/19/13 [Last modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 12:02am]
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