EAST LAKE — It was a matchup of the two remaining undefeated teams in Pinellas County, a battle between stifling defenses and high-scoring offenses in a game that would determine playoff possibilities in Class 7A, District 9.
But any chance of a tight game ended in the first half.
East Lake continued its dominance over county opponents, jumping to a two-score lead by halftime and pulling away from there in a 42-12 victory over Pinellas Park that clinched the district title.
East Lake (8-0, 4-0) was ahead by more than 35 in the fourth quarter, signaling the use of a running clock. It was the seventh time this season the Eagles have had a running clock.
"Our focus was to try to get ahead by two scores early and keep it a two-score game the rest of the way," East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. "We just wanted to have (Pinellas Park) stay out of their comfort zone."
The script at the start of the game could not have gone any better for the Eagles. After forcing the Patriots (7-1, 3-1) to punt on their opening possession, East Lake turned to its ground game as Weston Fordham ripped off runs of 45 and 23 yards to set up quarterback Jake Hudson's 1-yard plunge for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
On Pinellas Park's next possession, quarterback Angel Addison threw an interception to Jake Hansen, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0.
The Patriots were unbeaten heading into Friday's game because of a devastating run game that averaged more than 400 yards this season. But Pinellas Park had never had to play from behind or throw the ball more than a few times a game.
Trailing by two scores, the Patriots went to the air. Addison hit Pierre Johnson for 23 and 39 yards, and Johnson finished the drive with a 6-yard run. After a missed extra point, the score was 14-6.
East Lake responded with its run game. Artavis Scott capped a drive with a 19-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Eagles padded their lead to 28-6 when Scott scored again, this time on a 37-yard run.
It only got worse as Devin Abraham returned an interception 15 yards for a touchdown and Fordham scored on a 16-yard run to make 42-6 in the fourth quarter, kicking in the running clock.
The Eagles can put up points in bunches. The stats were pedestrian with just 254 yards of offense, most coming from Scott (107 rushing) and Fordham (111).
But it was the defense that helped with two scores.
"The offense gets a lot of notoriety, but we just go out there and do our job," said Abraham, who recorded his fifth interception and second defensive touchdown of the season. "We're the dark side."
Pinellas Park rounded out the scoring when Kal-el Williams ran 6 yards for a touchdown.