CLEARWATER — Jamarian Samuel was beyond impressive, but Calvary Christian was beyond dominant.
The Ocala Trinity Catholic junior came into The Rock on Friday night just as advertised, one of the best athletes in the state. Samuel showed strength and savvy as he finished with 356 yards on 41 carries and two touchdowns while adding a 99-yard kickoff return to the house.
But that still couldn't compete with the poise, passion and power put forth by the host Warriors, who rode multiple weapons to an important 35-28 victory.
Sitting just percentage points out of the playoffs in Class 3A, Region 3 going into the game, Calvary looks to leap into the postseason picture with a record of 7-2 while, just as importantly, beating a 7-2 team in the Celtics.
“We can only control what we can control,” said Warriors coach Reggie Crume. “We had a ton of playoff teams from last year on our schedule. We want to be tested.”
For the brunt of Friday's contest, Calvary passed all of the tests.
Working behind a precision offensive line (sophomore guards T.J. Demas and Tito Tejada, senior tackles Mike Lofton and Nadeem Ayoub, and junior center Jacob Ford) allowed shifty running back Kai Martin to set an early tone.
“They have more heart that anyone I know,” Martin said of the front five. “I was mostly on defense and wide receiver last year. When our starting running back transferred, I had to step up and fill in that empty hole and I feel I was able to do that.”
The junior got the offense flying with 118 yards in the first half including a 23-yard ramble untouched up the gut midway through the second quarter.
Senior Sheldon Quarles also got into the act, taking a direct snap and sweeping around right end 2 yards to paydirt early in the second half.
Just as importantly, the effective running game made quarterback Harold Cook's pass-run option reads easier and more damaging. Starting with a perfect slot pass to Quarles (seven catches for 80 yards) for a 19-yard TD that opened the game's scoring, Cook showed a precise arm all night.
The 6-foot-3 senior connected on 16 of 18 passes for 223 yards and second-half TDs to senior Jett Smith and Isaiah Washburn. But possibly his best, and biggest, completion of the night came when he looked off Trinity’s safety and hit tightly-covered junior wideout Richie Ilarraza (four catches for 83 yards on the night) in stride down the left sideline for 31 yards on third down and 22 to set up Martin’s TD and a 21-3 lead.
“Over the summer, we’d practice then we’d work on routes, pass catching, certain plays,” Cook said. “We worked hard all summer long to get our timing down.”
“I tell college coaches scouting us that they’re not going to get a player as high character than Harold,” Crume said. “I’d put his leadership skills and character up against anybody in the country. He’s second to none.”
A team with Trinity’s resources wasn’t going to quit, cutting a 35-15 deficit to 35-28 on Samuel’s kick return and a 1-yard QB sneak from Domanic Brinser, but the Warrior defense made enough key stops to close out the win.
“The defense's mentality is to do the little things and give the offense a chance,” defensive end David Crossan said. “After playing a game Monday, we wanted to bounce back, stay together even if (Trinity) got a big play, and get back at it.”
Crossan did his part, helping hold the Celtics to a first-quarter field goal after driving to the Warrior 11 then, two hours later, rocking Samuel for a 3-yard loss to the Calvary 11 for his ninth tackle of the night that eventually got the hosts the ball back on downs.
Add in a second-quarter red-zone interception from sophomore London Hall and the winning effort is complete.
“We didn’t want to have any turnovers (Friday) and we didn’t want to put our defense in any bad situations,” Crume concluded. “I’m proud of our coaches and players for staying together and never wavering. I’m really proud and happy for this win.”