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Tampa Catholic finds footing after a forgettable first quarter

The Crusaders bounce back from a loss to rival Jesuit in a big way.

TAMPA — Quarterback Dylan McCain accounted for a touchdown through the air and on the ground as No. 3 seed Tampa Catholic used big plays to overcome a slow start, wearing down No. 6 Lemon Bay 35-6 in a Class 4A, Region 3 quarterfinal on Friday.

Coming off a tough loss to rival Jesuit, the Crusaders (6-5) were sloppy in the first quarter as six penalties and an interception by McCain thwarted a pair of promising drives. The score remained knotted at zero after the first quarter.

Tampa Catholic finally got on the board in the second quarter as McCain (11-of-19, 156 yards) connected with A.J. Williams on a 40-yard strike to give the Crusaders a first and goal at the Manta Ray 10-yard line. Three plays later, McCain rolled out and found Antoine Hill from 5 yards out on fourth down for a 7-0 lead. After Lemon Bay (3-8) failed on a fake punt attempt, the Crusaders embarked on a 12-play drive culminating with a McCain score on a quarterback sneak just before the half for a 14-0 Crusader lead.

In the third quarter, it was Raphael Ekechi exploding off tackle for a 75-yard touchdown as the Crusaders took a commanding 21-0 lead. The score marked a shift in momentum and seemed to end and hopes the scrappy Manta Rays had of pulling the upset.

“They are humans. They are kids. It’s the playoffs. Every game counts. We just had to continue to motivate them,” Tampa Catholic coach Jeris McIntyre said. “We can’t look back on last week and can’t look forward to next week. As the game went on, the playmakers stepped up. That was huge for Raphael. He’s been banged up. He came back and had a heck of a run.”

Later in the quarter, it was Hill (74 all-purpose yards) scoring his second touchdown of the game, this time on a 14-yard run.

Although physically outmatched, Lemon Bay showed fight throughout the night. Colby McCauley burst up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown run to cut the score to 28-6 after a failed conversion.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Crusaders’ D.J. Taylor cut right and headed down the sideline for a 75-yard kickoff return to cap the scoring for Tampa Catholic.

The Crusaders will head to south Florida next week to face No. 2 seed American Heritage in Delray Beach. The Stallions have had a similar season to the Crusaders, as each team finished the regular season at 5-5 with all five losses for both squads coming against playoff teams.

“We are on to Round 2. We will enjoy it tonight and be back in tomorrow morning to prepare. We will need to go down there and play smart, physical football,” said McIntyre.

Region football semifinals

All games 7:30 p.m. next Friday.

Class 2A, Region 3

• No. 3 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Northside Christian

• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 1 Cambridge Christian

Class 3A, Region 3

• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 1 Berkeley Prep

Class 4A, Region 3

• No. 4 Clewiston at No. 1 Lakewood

• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 2 Delray Beach American Heritage

Class 5A, Region 3

• No. 8 Chamberlain at No. 4 Jesuit

Class 5A, Region 2

• No. 4 Nature Coast at No. 1 Orlando Jones

Class 6A, Region 2

• No. 5 Clearwater at No. 1 Gaither

• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 2 Largo

Class 7A, Region 3

• No. 3 Manatee at No. 2 Mitchell

Class 7A, Region 2

• No. 5 Bloomingdale at No. 1 Armwood

• No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 2 Lakeland

Class 8A, Region 2

• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 1 Sarasota Riverview