Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Preseason football: Sickles 34, Tampa Catholic 20

TAMPA — Ideally, a preseason game provides at least a few answers for both sidelines. Yet the two most glaring questions Friday at Sickles High remained unresolved after four quarters.

Sickles High officials provided no specific answers for coach Brian Turner's absence, and Tampa Catholic found no answer for Gryphons tailback Ray Ray McCloud.

Logging more action than either team bargained for, the 174-pound junior ran for 210 yards and three TDs, and scored on returns of 50 and 90 yards in the Gryphons' 34-20 preseason triumph against the Crusaders.

Turner will return next week, Gryphons principal Jake Russell said. Billy Turner, the local 76-year-old icon who replaced his son on an interim basis Friday, wouldn't address the absence.

"We're just dealing with an issue," Russell said. "He's out this week and he'll be back next week."

Upon Brian Turner's return, he may not see another effort from McCloud like the one the Division I prospect delivered on a muggy, mostly rain-free night. Yet the performance inspired as much apology as awe.

Billy Turner acknowledged his son's plan — agreed to with TC beforehand — was to remove most starters after one series in the third quarter. But a lack of depth, and a frustrating failure to put TC away, changed things.

Crusaders junior backup Ben Reed's 73-yard scoring run with 7:29 to play cut TC's deficit to 27-20, prompting Gryphons coaches to reinsert McCloud. Eight plays later, he capped an 80-yard drive with an 8-yard TD run to seal things.

"We've got some potential, we're just very thin," said Billy Turner, whose team committed three turnovers and was whistled for more than 120 penalty yards. "We couldn't substitute; we had nobody to put in."

After managing only 35 first-half yards, TC mounted a five-play, 60-yard drive — capped by Kyle Ploucher's 30-yard TD pass to Isiah Osby — early in the third.

That cut TC's deficit to 14-7. Ploucher later trimmed it to 20-14 with a 6-yard scoring strike to Trajan Herr, and ensuing two-point throw to Justin Vertino. McCloud answered with a 90-yard kick return for a TD, giving him roughly 350 all-purpose yards on the night.

"Obviously our tackling is the main thing we're going to need to work on from here on out," first-year Crusaders coach Mike Gregory said. "We had guys in the right spots and we just didn't make plays."

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