LARGO — Mission accomplished, or so it seemed.
In Friday’s Class 6A, Region 2 semifinal, host and second seed Largo had the perfect weapons in Jayion McCluster and A.J. Mathis — and their combined 200-plus tackles — to neutralize the state’s best running back in Lake Minneola’s Kyeandre Magloire.
The Packers pair were up to the challenge of shutting down Magloire, holding the state’s leader in yards, TDs and points to just 65 yards rushing on the night. But the third-seeded Hawks had a more-than-worthy Plan B in senior quarterback Devon Cole, who torched Largo through the air in the first half and on the ground in the second en route to a convincing 33-13 victory.
Now with a 9-3 record, Lake Minneola will continue its best-ever season with a road trip to take on top seed Gaither — a 27-20 semifinal victor over Clearwater — in next Friday’s region final. Largo finishes its season with an 8-4 record.
With Magloire bottled up, Cole threw daggers into the Packer D, connecting on 11 of 20 passes for 224 yards and touchdowns to Antonio Thomas (a 51-yard fourth-down bomb to open the scoring) and Magloire (38 yards with 2:27 left in the half). Tack on a pair of Largo turnovers, losing a fumble into the Hawks’ end zone that was recovered by Jay Jay Williams for a touchback followed by a 47-yard pick-six from Trent Logan, and the hosts were behind 20-6 at the break.
“That was a goal to try and neutralize their running back (Magloire) and make (the Hawks) play left-handed, but (Cole) scrambled around and found some guys open,” Packers coach Marcus Paschal said. “We just couldn’t get any pressure on him. The defense that we’ve become accustomed to just wasn’t there (Friday night).”
The trend continued in the second half as Cole deftly read the holes his line presented to him and rumbled for 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns on grinding drives of 12 and 11 plays that ran more than 11 minutes off of the clock.
“My teammates picked me up at halftime and told me to do what I do,” said Cole, who finished with 344 yards of total offense. “I came out and just played my game.”
Largo’s offense struggled in response. Missing starting quarterback Brandon Coppola for a second straight contest, the sophomore tandem of Garrett Gurney (TD runs of 3 yards in the first half and 7 yards in the second, 45 yards rushing and 84 more passing) and Jonquis Bonney produced in spurts but penalties (93 yards) and miscues were their undoing.
“We had a lot of new pieces and the young quarterbacks tried their hardest but it wasn't just one person,” Paschal said. “We just didn't get it taken care of, we couldn't get anything going offensively, defensively and on special teams.
“But this definitely was a positive season. Our goal was to win the district championship and be in the playoff hunt and we did that. This is my sixth year and our third straight district title. This was a tough loss but we’ll keep pushing. We’ll be here for years to come.”
All games 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
Class 2A, Region 3
• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 3 Seffner Christian
Class 3A, Region 3
• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 2 Fort Myers Bishop Verot
Class 4A, Region 3
• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 1 Lakewood
Class 5A, Region 3
• No. 4 Jesuit at No. 2 Lake Wales
Class 6A, Region 2
• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 1 Gaither
Class 7A, Region 2
• No. 2 Lakeland at No. 1 Armwood
Class 8A, Region 2
• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 3 Kissimmee Osceola