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McKnight's play makes impact

As he ran closer and closer to the end zone Friday night, Bulldogs senior John McKnight had the harsh realization that returning an interception 90 yards for a touchdown would not be enough.

For once, he had the chance to put the exclamation point on his own sentence.

"I was so tired, just exhausted, that I almost didn't kick my extra point," McKnight said. "But I've always wanted to do that."

The extra point after his first career touchdown tied the game 7-7 with 28 seconds left in the first half, a huge shift from the potential 14-point lead Bartow had been marching toward. The pivotal return of a Craig Jenkins pass sparked the Bulldogs to a 15-14 playoff victory, only the second in school history.

The 6-foot, 170-pound defensive back was lurking in the middle of the field, literally wishing the quarterback would pass in his direction.

"I wanted him to throw it but didn't think he would, but like an idiot, he did, and I caught it," said McKnight, who had three interceptions in the Bulldogs' victory against Pasco that clinched the district title.

McKnight, who will attend Florida State next year, said he never looked back to see whether he had a convoy of blockers or a slew of Yellow Jackets running him down, but the only obstacle he had was Jenkins, who he spun away from.

"He flat out broke a tackle by the quarterback," Fisher said. "He tried to wrap him up, but John looked like he was doing a Hula Hoop. He got him around the waist but then just flew off."

Fisher had equal praise for another big-yardage play of McKnight's, a 68-yard punt in the third quarter as Zephyrhills trailed 14-7, a big boost in the battle of field position. Considering the winning margin came on a safety when a Bartow snap sailed over its punter's head, the special teams edge was a key to the Bulldogs' victory.

"It was big-time, a pro punt, high spiral, just hung up there," Fisher said. "They had killed us on field position in the first half, and that ended up being a big play for us."

McKnight, who has handled the Bulldogs' kicking and punting duties since Kyle Briscoe injured his knee early in the season, said he had struggled with his first-half punts but had everything come together at the right time.

"I just caught hold of it and killed it," he said. "It definitely wasn't a regular punt. Keith Osterman got me the snap perfect, and they weren't really rushing, so I had all the time in the world to nail it. I saw it rising and I'm waiting for it to come down, but it kept going."

The Bulldogs are plenty familiar with Jesuit, not only from last year's humbling 34-14 playoff loss, but from being a district rival of the Tigers, most recently in 1999 and 2000. It's a closer rivalry for McKnight, however, as he spent his freshman and sophomore years at Jesuit before he was, er, encouraged to enter the public school system.

"I wasn't kicked out _ I was not asked to return," said McKnight, who didn't play in last year's playoff loss. "They don't put up with much there, and I didn't do anything major, but lots of little stuff. So I've wanted Jesuit for two years. I know everyone, the whole team, because it's a close school, and I'd love to get Jesuit."