CLEARWATER — Countryside quarterback Robby Hicks glanced right, then left. He shuffled his feet sideways, searching for the smallest of openings, a sliver to squeeze through, only to find a collapsing pocket from the relentless pursuit of Clearwater Central Catholic defenders.
The Marauders, who have one of the county’s best defenses, unleashed a swarming, gang-rushing attack, mercilessly harassing Hicks into hurried throws and capturing him for losses. In all, CCC recorded seven sacks in the first half Friday and scored on a safety to take control in a 22-13 victory.
“We did things well in the first half, especially on defense,” Marauders coach John Davis said. “Up front, we’re pretty darn good.”
The sack total included five from Justus Reed, a speed rusher who transferred from Clearwater and was playing his first game with CCC. One of Reed’s sacks resulted in a safety.
“I’ve had four sacks in a game before, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never had five before,” said Reed, who has committed to Florida. “And I know I’ve never had five in one half before.”
The Marauders were pedestrian on offense, relying on their run game and short, safe passes. In the first quarter, CCC scored on a 2-yard run by Conner Dorris to go ahead 7-0.
After Reed’s safety in the second quarter made it 9-0, the Marauders scored again on a 34-yard field goal by Yanni Ramos and added a touchdown on a 42-yard run by C.J. Cotman to go ahead 19-0.
CCC attempted another field goal at the end of the half, but it was blocked. The Cougars’ Michael Johnson picked it up and ran 70 yards for a touchdown. After a missed extra point, the score was cut to 19-6.
Countryside continued with the momentum in the second half, scoring on a 3-yard run by Johnson to cut the deficit to 19-13.
But the Cougars could not get any closer. Ramos hit an 18-yard field goal to give the Marauders a 22-13 lead. Then CCC turned to its defense, which stopped Countryside on downs on its final possession.
The Marauders already had a fierce pass rush, averaging five sacks per game last season. It became even better with the additions of Reed and Dorris, a transfer from PHU who recorded two sacks. Other defenders also took turns pushing, pulling and throwing Countryside quarterbacks to the turf.
“We made a lot of mistakes and still have a lot of work to do,” Davis said. “But the good news is we won the game.”