LARGO — Delton Hall and Keion Dunlap trotted off the field Friday night, smiling as they headed toward family and friends ready to celebrate Largo’s huge 21-14 district victory over Clearwater.
At first blush, one could never tell that the senior pair — a combined 550-plus pounds — not only played both ways for the Packers, but were just as effective at creating holes for their running backs and harassing mobile quarterback Rent Montie in the final minutes of play as they were in the first quarter.
The efforts of the duo, among many others, helped keep Clearwater (3-1, 0-1 in Class 6A-7 play) out of synch as Largo (3-1, 1-0) produced when it counted most.
“It was just hard work,” said Hall after registering four tackles, a pair of quarterback pressures along with quality work on the left side of the Packer O-line. “Going 100 percent in practice, my mama pushing me, Pops pushing me, my family, my teammates ... I love it. Chasing the quarterback … I feed off of that.”
“Last week (in a 26-22 loss to Pinellas Park), Delton and Keion didn’t play like they’re capable of,” said Largo head coach Marcus Paschal. “I told them I expected more from them and they stepped up to the plate. I’m happy for them. They got to write their own legacy in the rivalry between (the two schools).”
Dunlap stepped up to the tune of five tackles, one for a 10-yard loss, and a half sack. More importantly, combined with linebackers Jayion McCluster (six tackles, two for loss, two QB pressures with one batted pass) and Alvin Mathis (11 tackles) along with Dante Belardo (sack), the Packer pressure forced Montie to throw three interceptions.
The second pick, midway through the second quarter on an athletic leap and grab by Jarrod Briscoe at the Tornadoes’ 4-yard line, set up McCluster for his second rushing TD of the night and a 14-0 Packer lead. Clearwater couldn’t fully rebound from that deficit.
“Our attention to detail this week was a lot better, we were more focused,” Paschal said of Largo’s third straight win over Clearwater. “They were into it because they knew what was at stake.”
Refusing to quit, Montie (20-of-44, 220 yards) fought to keep Clearwater competitive. A five-minute march that covered 90 yards and featured a successful fake punt ended on a 3-yard TD toss to Cardrece Mobley (four catches, 37 yards) with eight seconds left in the first half.
In the fourth quarter, after a drive with three big first-down conversions stalled at the Largo 20, Montie struck again by capping a 44-yard march with a 15-yard midfield bullet to Keedrik Murray (five catches, 59 yards) with two minutes left to play.
But all this did was get the Tornadoes within a touchdown as Largo essentially locked up the victory on a brilliant 70-yard drive in the third quarter. Quarterback Brandon Coppola (5-of-14, 112 yards) hit senior Quavon Matthews (three catches, 102 yards) for 22 yards on third and 20, then for 39 more on a third-and-13 call. Three plays later and Khaishef Edwards swept down the left sideline 9 yards to paydirt on the last play of the third quarter to reestablish the Packers’ two-score advantage.
“From the outside looking in, a lot of people were saying we should come out all guns a-blazing but it's tough,” Paschal said. “We have a lot of young men that are learning a new system and I'm proud of where we're at. We'll continue to move forward and get better in all three phases of the game.”
In defeat, Clearwater coach Don Mesick said, “Our defense hung in well (allowing 197 total yards on the night) given the turnovers and the bad situations we put them in. We made a lot of mistakes … we didn’t give the QB enough time to throw; when we did, we made some bad throws; and when we made good throws, we didn’t make enough catches.
“This has to be the low point of the season but the kids are not intimidated. We’ve all got to take responsibility and play better all the way around.”