ZEPHYRHILLS — T.J. Harrell scored touchdowns the first two times he touched the ball Friday, and Tampa Catholic held off Zephyrhills 20-9.
"We have a lot of new pieces, but I think we have the pieces of a good football team," said TC coach Bob Henriquez. "We're just working on putting everything together. We'll get there."
The Crusaders (2-0) could not have been trudging along any more slowly at the beginning of the night. Two big plays were wiped out by penalties, and quarterback Kyle Ploucher's first two throws were picked off by Lorine Parker and Jaylen Pickett.
Later Ploucher was called for intentional grounding on the goal line leading to Zephyrhills (0-2) taking a 2-0 advantage.
But Harrell made his first big play, blocking a punt to give the Crusaders the ball near midfield. After a drive-extending pass interference call TC dialed up Harrell, who went untouched for a 38-yard score with 48 seconds left in the first quarter.
Two drives later starting tailback Kenny Bryant ripped off three straight runs covering 44 yards. The next Harrell broke three tackles near the line of scrimmage then pummeled his way through the goal line for a 21-yard touchdown.
Already down 13-2, the Bulldogs faced third and 28 from their 2 to start the third quarter. But Malik Mutcherson gained 29 on a draw play, Mike Smith hit Jarret Kelly on a 53-yard pass and Smith's sneak pulled his team within 13-9.
Bulldogs linebacker Joel Morrison stripped Harrell and gave his team possession at the TC 31. But the Crusaders got it right back on a fumble. Ploucher hit Jake Romp on a big fourth-down play that led to fullback T.J. Koontz's 9-yard touchdown early in the final quarter.
"Kyle struggled but when we needed a big play, he hit that one on fourth down," Henriquez said.
Tampa Catholic sacked Smith five times, with Tyler Meany and Tre Watson getting two each.
The Bulldogs were without starting running back Willie Williams, who was wearing a walking boot on his left ankle. Mutcherson ran for 59 yards on 11 carries.
For TC it was a balanced effort led by Harrell's 70 yards. Bryant ran for 54 yards on 12 carries, sophomore Ben Reed had 40 yards on 10 carries and the team totaled 208 yards.