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Plant City High broadens talent, turns up pressure

Quarterback Austin Carswell, 16, during spring football practice at Plant City High School on Thursday, May 1, 2014.
Quarterback Austin Carswell, 16, during spring football practice at Plant City High School on Thursday, May 1, 2014.
Published Oct. 8, 2014

PLANT CITY — Pick a superlative and it probably fits Plant City running back Markese Hargrove.

Fast. Elusive. Tough.

But perhaps coach Wayne Ward summed up his junior tailback most succinctly.

"Slippery," he said. "Very slippery."

Hargrove gave plenty of would-be East Bay tacklers the slip last week, gouging the Indians for 268 yards. At the midway point of the season, Hargrove sits at 611 yards rushing.

"We had great blocks from the offensive line and receivers," Hargrove said. "They were just opening big lanes for me to just shoot through."

Maybe even more impressive than his yardage total against the Indians was the number of carries it took him to get there — 17. Hargrove had eight runs of 15 yards or more, including a 78-yard burst.

"All Markese needs is a little crease," Ward said. "And he's gone."

Ward attributed Hargrove's success to the Raiders' improved up-tempo offense and better line play.

"We have the ability to wear down defenses, especially bigger defensive lines, in the fourth quarter," he said. "But the offensive line improved tremendously and have been steadily getting better for us all season."

While Hargrove has been a beast on the ground, Ward is still trying to find the right mix under center. Sophomore Corey King started last week in the 21-6 win against East Bay but was relieved by Austin Carswell for a series late in the second quarter. Carswell completed a pair of passes on his first two plays, then scampered 28 yards off left end on the next for Plant City's first touchdown of the night.

"Right now we're trying to find the right combination to make the offense work best," Ward said. "We're fortunate because we have two guys who can run the offense. Not too many teams can say that."

When Carswell isn't at quarterback, the talented Strawberry Crest transfer lines up out wide. Having Carswell in the slot may be Plant City's optimum option; when he's lined up at quarterback it ensures he touches the ball on every play.

"We don't want to put too much pressure on Austin," Ward said. "But he's a threat, no doubt. When we get everything clicking, the question becomes who do you choose to stop?"

King and Carswell went 4-of-8 for just 29 yards against East Bay, but Ward said he's comfortable with either one.

"They are both capable of running this offense," he said. "If we can keep that up it will help to loosen up the defense and create more gaps for Markese."

Plant City (2-2-1) plays Tampa Bay Tech (2-3) tonight and Spoto the following week before closing out the schedule with three district opponents. And while the Raiders' quarterback situation may be in flux, Tampa Bay Tech — with the dynamic Deon Cain — has no such issues. Cain is only 30 of 83 for 452 yards through the air, but the senior has gained 486 on the ground to go along with five rushing touchdowns.

"Deon Cain is a handful," Ward said. "The biggest thing we have to do with him is stay on assignment and keep him contained, because he can take it the distance at any time."