CLEARWATER — In the process of collecting its fifth win of the season — the most ever for a Palm Harbor University football team — the Hurricanes dismantled another long-standing achievement for futility.
PHU's 34-0 victory over Clearwater on Friday was only the second shutout in team history. The first came way back in 1996. That was 12 seasons ago.
"The defense has really come a long way this year," senior linebacker Barry Owens said. "That's a credit to our defensive coordinator coach (Mark) Haye."
Haye paced up and down the sideline, pleading with his defense for the majority of the second half to keep Clearwater off the board.
The Tornadoes (2-6) moved the ball to the Hurricanes 10-yard line in the fourth quarter for their deepest penetration of the night, but Clearwater quarterback Nick Gimbrone was intercepted by PHU's Scott Santangelo. It was one of eight Clearwater turnovers (four fumbles, four picks) on the night.
Clearwater didn't pick up a first down until the second half and had a meager 32 yards before the break.
"Coach Haye really does a great job preparing the kids defensively," PHU head coach Pete Just said. "He really wanted to try to get a shutout.
"The closer (Clearwater) got, he was getting a little nervous. But I'm happy the kids were able to pull it out for him."
PHU quarterback Sean Shelton picked apart the Clearwater secondary in the first half. On the Hurricanes' third drive, Shelton found Mike McNeely wide open in the middle of the field for a 45-yard touchdown.
On its next drive, PHU (5-2) went 60 yards on seven plays for a touchdown, capped by JaTyuan Landing's 3-yard scamper.
A Matt McGinty interception at the Clearwater 35 set up the Hurricanes' next score, a Shelton to Landing 23-yard strike that made the score 21-0 at the break.
Shelton finished 9-for-19 for 176 yards.
"He was definitely on tonight," Just said.
After halftime, Joey Kenyon recovered a Clearwater fumble in the end zone to put PHU ahead 28-0, and on the Hurricanes' next drive, Shelton sneaked into the end zone from a yard away, putting an exclamation point on a dominating victory.
"At the beginning of the season, it was real important to set the school record for wins," Just said. "Now we're in a position where there are more important things than the school record and five wins in a row. …We've begun stressing the idea of let's be the first team in PHU history to make the playoffs now."