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Football: Gaither 39, East Bay 15

Tony Bartalo continues to prove that he’s one of the top quarterbacks in Tampa Bay this season.

TAMPA — Gaither is 4-0 for the first time in 19 seasons.

The Cowboys took down visiting East Bay 39-15 behind four passing touchdowns from senior quarterback Tony Bartalo.

Gaither started the night off quickly following an interception from sophomore athlete Jordan Oladokun on East Bay’s opening drive.

Just one play later, Bartalo hit sophomore wide receiver Speedy Pittman over the top for a 45-yard touchdown.

At the end of the first quarter, senior wide receiver Deveon Knighton recorded an 11-yard touchdown grab from Bartalo to give Gaither a 13-0 lead. And the Cowboys never looked back.

Last season, Bartalo had 11 touchdowns, including just one game with three or more touchdown passes. This season already, he has 16 touchdown passes.

“I just think I was probably a bad coach for not starting him from Day 1 last year,” Gaither coach Kirk Karsen said. “I think he became a full-time starter in Week 4 or 5 last year. He just oozes confidence and his play shows it.”

Karsen alluded to the vast amount of receiving weapons that Bartalo has at his disposal. Between Pittman, Knighton, senior Jeff Duclos and Oladokun, it is really a pick your poison type of situation for the Cowboys.

The leading receiver for Gaither in this game was Knighton, who had 87 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown grab came near the end of the first half on a 10-yard score.

“I knew (Deveon) was going to be the surprise of the county this year,” Karsen said. “The guy works his butt off. He has unbelievable hands. I don’t think he’s dropped a ball in two years of being here in practice or in games. Someone is going to get a great football player at the next level.”

Senior Chance Coleman and junior Jayden Mendez each had touchdown runs.

Coleman pounded into the end zone for a 1-yard score to extend the lead to 26-0 before the end of the second quarter. Mendez went untouched down the left sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

The final passing touchdown from Bartalo came with 15 seconds left in the third quarter when he connected with Oladokun in the left end zone for a 45-yard score.

“Jordan is like a once in every 10-year player that you get who can do everything on the field,” Karsen said. “We just have to figure out a way to get the most out of him without wearing him out because we plan on hopefully having a long season.”

Karsen wanted to make sure this wasn’t a trap game and that his group didn’t look past East Bay (1-3) at all.

“Coach (Frank) LaRosa does a great job,” he said. “They’re a physical football team and they just came off an emotional last-second comeback victory against Jefferson. We just wanted to stress to our kids to dominate every snap and every play and we’ll be okay.”

East Bay earned touchdown runs from sophomore Armone Bostick and junior Malachi Drayton. Bostick ended the shut out with a 2-yard score midway through the third quarter. Drayton had a 40-yard touchdown run with under two minutes left in the game.

Defensively, junior defensive end Garrett Hines had two sacks for East Bay. Senior Derrick Jackson and junior Willie Jackson each had one sack for Gaither.

The Cowboys now have a week off while East Bay heads to Tampa Bay Tech (4-0).

“The week off is huge,” Karsen said. “We have been pretty lucky with injuries so far but there are a lot of kids that are banged up. It will definitely help us get healthy.”