PINELLAS PARK — Last week, Clearwater Academy played in front of nearly 10,000 fans at “The Pit,” the iconic home stadium of Elder High in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The game was electric, too. Elder scored the go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes to win 60-54. Panthers coach Doug Ramsey said it was the craziest game he has been a part of in his 23 seasons at the school.
There were plenty of positives for the Knights. They had 659 yards of offense and nearly knocked off the No. 7 ranked team in Ohio, according to MaxPreps.
Still, it was a loss, which snapped Clearwater Academy’s 15-game win streak that dated to 2017. The sulking only lasted a few days. After all, Clearwater Academy (2-1) had to get ready to face rival American Collegiate (formerly Superior Collegiate).
Friday night, the Knights played in front of fewer than 100 fans at the home of the Pinellas Park T-Birds youth league. Once again, Clearwater Academy’s offense racked up yards — and points.
It was more than enough for Clearwater Academy to bounce back with a dominant 60-12 win in a game that had a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“We were sloppy and had way too many penalties, but it was good to get back in the win column,” Knights coach Jesse Chinchar said.
In the first half, the Knights built a 53-12 lead largely on the passing connection of quarterback Luca Stanzani and receiver Ajou Ajou.
Ajou, a Canadian who has committed to Clemson, transferred to Clearwater Academy in the offseason and was still working on getting in synch with the offense. Everything clicked Friday night.
Stanzani found his favorite target often. Ajou had seven catches for 126 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
“During games we had just been missing with each other by a few inches,” Stanzani said. “In practice, we just kept staying focused and it happened.”
Ajou finished with 10 catches for 185 yards. Stanzani threw for nearly 300 yards and had six touchdowns.
Down 31-0, the Pioneers (0-3) had a brief spark in the second quarter when Penn State commit Keyvone Lee entered after sitting out a few series for disciplinary reasons. Playing quarterback, Lee ripped off a long run, then hit Antwan Burnett on a 31-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing kickoff, Nicholas Caldwell recovered a fumble in the end zone for another score to cut it to 31-12.
The rest of the game belonged to the Knights. Clearwater Academy had more than 400 yards of offense. And the defense recorded six sacks, forced three turnovers and scored on a safety.
“The kids were hanging their heads a little on Monday after that loss and it got less and less each day,” Chinchar said.”By Wednesday, we got heads back up, and I was proud of the way we responded.”
These teams have history. Lee played at Clearwater Academy as a freshman before transferring. The second half was chippy with the benches nearly clearing after a few late hits. The game was called with about 55 seconds remaining.
“Emotions are high,” Chinchar said. “The kids know each other. But it’s dying down less and less each year.”