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HOT 3-0 START A SHOCK TO MANY

But not Clearwater. The Tornadoes defense steps up big in the fourth.

Heading into the 2009 season, nobody gave Clearwater much of a chance of finishing .500, let alone making the playoffs.

Nobody, that is, but the Clearwater Tornadoes.

Behind a stout defense that limited Northeast to 55 yards in the second half and a rejuvenated passing attack with Ryan Hagen under center, Clearwater rallied from a 7-0, fourth-quarter deficit to score nine points in the final stanza and defeat the Vikings 9-7.

"I can't remember (the last time we started 3-0)," Clearwater coach Tom Bostic said. "I think this is a good thing to build on because, I told the kids, we beat a good football team tonight."

After Francisco Castro recovered a Northeast (1-1) fumble deep in Clearwater territory on the Vikings' opening drive of the second half, the Tornadoes embarked on 14-play, 76-yard drive that chewed up half of the third-quarter clock and a minute of the fourth. On the drive, Jeremiah George converted a third and 11 by rushing for 12 yards, Hagen found Antonio Thomas for a 20-yard gainer on third and 4, and A.J. Eastman rushed for 14 yards on fourth and 7 from the Vikings' 26. Eastman culminated the drive by kicking a 28-yard FG to cut the Northeast lead to 7-3.

Clearwater held the Vikings to minus-9 yards on Northeast's next series. After a poor punt put the ball at the Northeast 34, the Tornadoes again marched. Hagen found a wide open Heath Anderson in the back corner of the end zone to put Clearwater ahead 9-7 with 7:08 remaining.

Northeast advanced the ball to near midfield, but on fourth and 9, Vikings quarterback Kyle Carver was intercepted by George with two minutes left.

Northeast got the ball back with little more than a minute remaining, but on the second play of the drive, Carver was intercepted by Clearwater's Charles Lomas to seal the Tornadoes' victory.

"We walked into that locker room (at halftime), and for a second, everybody's head was down," George said. "I was just fired up. ...

"I didn't give a Tim Tebow type speech, but I told my guys that if we go out there and shut them down defensively, we're going to win this game. And what do you know? I'm just so blessed. I'm so thankful right now. We were 2-8 last year. Now, we're 3-0."

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