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Daunting trip looms for CCC

After getting through a regular-season schedule that included seven games against teams that made the playoffs, Clearwater Central Catholic should be ready for anything.

But nothing can prepare the Marauders for what they will face tonight.

Of the four county teams playing in region semifinals, Clearwater Central Catholic has the roughest road.

The Marauders have to make a four-hour trek through tall sugar cane and muck fields to play at Pahokee, a dot on the map just west of Lake Okeechobee.

Come game time, the stadium will be packed and the atmosphere will be at a fever pitch. All this before CCC even plays Pahokee, which is no small chore on any field.

"They take their football very seriously down there," said former Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez, whose team lost to Pahokee 25-22 in a playoff game in 1996. "The crowd goes out of its way to make it a very intimidating place. I can remember when our bus pulled into town, the local people poured out onto the streets to give us the one-finger salute."

In the game, the Crusaders led 22-18 before Pahokee scored the game-winning touchdown with two minutes remaining.

"I remember once we got the lead, our assistant coaches up in the press box overheard some fans telling them, "If you know what's good for you, you'll lose this game'," Henriquez said. "So it's definitely a spectacle, but you just have to make sure the kids don't let the taunting and all the other surroundings get to their head."

The task is formidable, but CCC coach Mike Jalazo said his team is not intimidated by the prospect of having to beat a great team on the road.

"We've heard all the stories," Jalazo said. "I know what it's like because when I was with Farragut last year, we played down the road at Belle Glades Glades Day. I've told the kids all week you can either enjoy it or not. I think they're battle-tested and are jacked up for this game."