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Boca Ciega fumbled away chance to beat Dixie

Dixie Hollins stayed very much alive in the Class 4A, District 10 race Friday night against Boca Ciega. And should the Rebels successfully defend their title, they will remember The Fumble. Late in the second quarter of Friday night's 14-7 overtime victory, Rebels nose tackle Mike Serio stripped Pirates quarterback Kojara Ransom of the football. While players from both teams stood as if they had heard a whistle, Serio raced 38 yards for his first career touchdown.

Along with the point after, Serio's score tied the game 7-7. In a sequel to The Fumble, free safety Serrell Rollins recovered an errant Pirate pitch in overtime, giving Dixie Hollins a 14-7 win.

Dixie is now 6-1, 3-1 in the district and on track to another championship should Osceola (2-1, 2-5) stumble once more this season.

Boca Ciega (3-4, 1-2) had its chances (and outgained the Rebels 182-158), but missed three field goals, one of which was blocked by Dedrick Mitchell.

Largo rebound: Largo's Brian Magee and Frank Ruffner have probably about 10 per cent body fat between them. So when they start talking about "gut check" you know they aren't talking about love handles.

"That was our slogan this week," said Ruffner, after the Packers defeated Countryside 7-3 Friday. "It was to see if we could rebound from Riverview (a 20-0 winner over the Packers last week)."

"That has been on everybody's minds this week," said Magee. "The coaches were all saying that Countryside plays us tough all the time, but all we were thinking about was the Riverview game. We have to concentrate on going forward, see if we have enough guts to go on with the rest of the season."

Besides coming back from the loss, Largo (6-1, 2-1 in Class 5A District 9) had to rally from a 3-0 first-half deficit. The Packers scored the decisive touchdown _ a 67-yard Jason Kylis to Magee hookup _ on the first play of its first possession of the second half.

"(Our performance) didn't have anything to do with Riverview," he said. "It's just that Countryside is a good hard-nosed football team."

And the Cougars (5-3, 1-3) do play Largo tough. The last three meetings between the teams have been decided by a total of 20 points, Countryside winning 16-7 in 1988, and Largo winning 13-6 last year.

Countryside played solid defense. Cornerback Alex Lane haunted Magee for most of the game with tenacious coverage. Even on the touchdown pass, Lane was in good position _ he just got victimized by a perfect throw by Kylis and a perfect catch.

So close: He was getting plenty of help from his teammates, but it was hard not to separate Dunedin quarterback Damion Flagler from his peers Friday night.

In a tough 17-13 loss to Tarpon Springs, Flagler led the Falcons to two second half touchdowns (including a 51-yard touchdown pass to Chris Neidrich), punted five times with a 44-yard average, picked off a tipped pass with one hand while playing in the secondary, passed for 104 yards with no interceptions, and gained the respect of just about everyone watching.

"He's a great quarterback," said Tarpon Springs receiver Israel Carr, who leaped over Flagler to haul in the winning touchdown pass late in the game. "With him on the field there's always the threat that they will score."

Flagler, a junior, nearly led the Falcons to a comeback victory, but fell short in a wild finish. With the final seconds of the game ticking away, Flagler, hit Steve Gianfilippo with a 35 yard pass that the receiver somehow caught between two defenders. His backwards momentum almost carried Gianfilippo into the end zone for the score, but the officials spotted the ball at the 1-yard line and time expired.

But the Spongers were called for defensive holding, giving the Falcons a last shot at a touchdown from the Tarpon 27-yard line. This one failed as Flagler slipped in the backfield after running around nearly 10 seconds looking for an open receiver.

Flagler shrugged off the effort. "Our offensive line played a hell of a game and our defensive line played a hell of a game," he said. "Win some, lose some."

Altered states: The times, they just keep a'changin' for Rich Ninis' Lakewood football team.

A couple of weeks ago, Ninis switched his offensive attack from the wing-T to the run-and-shoot. Then, he replaced a conservative approach with a no-huddle attack formation. This week, he flopped quarterbacks, going from senior Trevor Mallory to junior Tony Hanna.

On Friday, the Spartans _ in their altered states _ went out and made an on-field change of their own: They snapped a two-week Class 4A, District 10 slide and won a district game.

"Man, we are way, way overdue for a win like this one," said Ninis, whose team beat Gibbs 29-12 to improve to 3-5 overall and 3-2 in 4A-10. "Offensively, we were strong again but last week we gave up 31 points. The defense made the big difference for us tonight. Defensively, we played our best game of the year tonight."

Despite their overall dominance, the Spartans defenders could not harness two players: Gibbs fullback Mike Frazier and quarterback Arian Odom.

Frazier, a 6-2, 200-pound sophomore, rushed for a game-high 126 yards on 22 carries. He ran the ball on five of Gibbs' first eight offensive plays and on nine of its first 14, and was instrumental in both of the Gladiators' touchdown drives.

Odom, a senior, completed 8 of 14 passes for 115 yards and a 19-yard touchdown to wideout Demetrius Tillis. Odom scored Gibbs' other TD on a 1-yard keeper in the second quarter.

In the running: Pinellas Park coach Thad Starling wanted his running game to be more of a factor to enhance the passing of quarterback Tony Rucker.

Mark Sanders responded. Sanders rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots' 38-20 win Friday over Northeast.

"We saw a lot of positive things tonight and all week in practice," Starling said. "We felt we had to get the running game going to open up Rucker's passing and we worked on that. They came back after that heartbreaking loss last week (24-21 to Dunedin). The seniors came through."

Rucker passed for 243 yards and one touchdown. Jermaine Holmes made four receptions for 98 yards and Tony Bland caught four for 60.

"We didn't tackle well on defense," said Northeast Coach Jerry Austin, whose team dropped to 1-6. "We're just not a real good football team. They've got some awful good skill players."

The Vikings stayed with the Patriots (3-3) in the first half, trailing 28-20 on the strength of three interceptions. But the Patriots' Chris Bell intercepted a Northeast pass in the final period and returned it for a 35-yard touchdown to seal the win.

Special request: St. Petersburg High running back Corinthian Sirmans approached coach Dusty Boylson Friday night and asked for The Play to be called.

"I asked the coach if he'd please call The Play," said Sirmans, who then took his conversation to quarterback Marcus Tukes. "After coach called The Play, I told Marcus I could beat the defender and he threw a great pass."

The pass, a 61-yard score, cemented the Green Devils' 20-2 win over Seminole. St. Petersburg has now won three straight games and losing its first five.

"I was so happy it worked out, not just for me, but for the team. We've been down so much this season," said Sirmans, who also made his fourth interception of the year with Seminole driving in the fourth quarter.

Fired up: Quarterback R.J. Slutz waited all season for a spark. And tight end Ted Elliott wanted a winning attitude at East Lake. The Eagles accomplished both Friday night as they pummeled Land O'Lakes 31-7 in a Class 4A, District 8 game.

East Lake (3-4, 2-1) has a chance for its first-ever winning record, and faces 4-3 Ridgewood next week. After that are games against 1-6 Hudson and 2-5 Gulf. Land O'Lakes dropped to 1-6, 1-4.

"We just kept on telling ourselves that the season wasn't over with," Slutz said. "We've waited for everything to click all at once and tonight it did."

Elliott, who returned a blocked punt 28 yards for a touchdown, spoke to the team before the game.

"We wanted more out of this season," Elliott said. "We want to bring tradition to East Lake and a winning attitude. We must start somewhere and I hope we made some progress tonight."

Skid continues: Despite its third-straight loss Friday night, Osceola is still in control of the Class 4A, District 10 race with three district games left.

Osceola (2-4, 2-1 in the district) suffered another non-district loss, 15-3 to Bloomingdale. Dixie Hollins leds the district at 3-1, but the loss was to Osceola.

After taking a 3-0 halftime lead, the Warriors watched Bloomingdale control the third quarter with two touchdowns.

Osceola managed just first downs.

Double trouble: Entering Friday night's game against St. Petersburg Catholic, Northside Christian running back Steve Norrish had rushed for 563 yards. He managed only 57 against the Barons, but found other ways to contribute _ like scoring two touchdowns and being a menace on defense.

From outside linebacker, Norris notched an interception and several tackles in Northside's 40-7 romp in a Class A, District 6 game.

Although the defending champion Mustangs raised their district record to 1-1 (4-3 overall), they are already out of the district picture. Lakeland-Santa Fe, which earlier beat the Mustangs, clinched the title Friday night with a 35-0 win over Tampa-Temple Heights. St. Petersburg Catholic is now 0-3, 2-5.

Damage control: Shorecrest fumbled the ball six times and lost two but still managed to defeat Clearwater Central Catholic 13-6 Friday.

The Chargers rebounded from their mistakes with good defense, holding CCC to 53 yards. On offense, Shorecrest gained 222 yards.

CCC, which converted one of Shorecrest's fumbles into a touchdown, made its own mistakes, committing six penalties in the second half for 60 yards.

Shorecrest is now 5-2; CCC is 0-7.

_ Staff writers Eric T. Pate, Tony Green and Tim Looney, and correspondents Mike Payne, Kevin Blowers, Phil Gulick, Wayne McKnight, Cary Waldman, Robert McGinty and Jason Molinet contributed to this report.