It was the play of the game. In the fourth quarter Thursday, Pinellas Park's Marcelus Ware burst through the middle of tired line, spun once and raced 79 yards past a helpless secondary for a touchdown to close out the scoring.
Ware, a 5-foot-10, 168-pound running back, was the Patriots' undersized superhero. He rushed for 160 yards on 12 carries in a 34-6 victory over Northeast in a Class 7A, District 9 game.
But there was more to Pinellas Park than just a here-and-gone highlight reel. The Patriots (5-1, 2-0) showed resolve, battling through injuries with a makeshift lineup that featured a lot of players in different positions.
"We just had to go out and play hard," Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford said. "It was a tough game and the guys really responded and played together after dealing with so many injuries."
On Wednesday, the Patriots found out they would be without running back Donte Maxson, who had an emergency appendectomy. Pinellas Park stuck to its usual backfield-by-committee approach, using Ware and Oscee Calhoun as its primary runners.
Another running back, Kal-El Williams was used as a tight end. On the first play from scrimmage, Williams had a 59 yard reception from Nick Hernandez that set up Calhoun's 6-yard run for a touchdown to give Pinellas Park a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings' first drive ended quickly as Rod Robinson picked off a pass and the Patriots capitalized on Calhoun's 10-yard scoring run to make it 14-0.
Calhoun added a touchdown in the second quarter for 20-0 lead.
In the second half, Pinellas Park stuck to a familiar, well-worn formula by relying a clock-chewing rushing and an opportunistic defense that created turnovers.
The Patriots added to their lead on a 29 yard touchdown run to go up 27-0. Pinellas Park's defense nearly pitched a shutout and forced five turnovers, including two interceptions by Robinson. The Patriots also held the Vikings on downs twice.
In the fourth quarter, Northeast got on the board when Devin Bowers scored on a 6-yard run. The extra point was blocked.
That set up Ware's thrilling run. The converted wide receiver has brought an added dimension to the running game with the ability to break off long runs. In the past two games, he has rushed for more than 300 yards.
"Marcelus is kind of unknown in the county," Crawford said. "But he's pretty darn good. People are going to know about him now. He's one of those we've moved around and he's stepped up.
"That's what this team does. We've just come back real strong from some adversity."
Meanwhile, Northeast (2-3, 0-2) dropped its second straight district game.
"We're young and we made some mistakes, but we fought for four quarters," Vikings coach Jeremy Frioud said. "There's no quit in them and that's what I'm proud of."
* * *
Stars of the game
MARCELUS WARE, PINELLAS PARK: He finished with 160 yards rushing on 12 carries and scored once.
OSCEE CALHOUN, PINELLAS PARK: The Patriots leading rusher did most of his first work early with three rushing touchdowns to give his team a 27-0 lead at the half.
JALYNN WILLIAMS, NORTHEAST: He had three catches for 82 yards, including 36 yarder that set up the Vikings' only score in the fourth quarter.