PINELLAS PARK — Sometimes winning just comes down to will and determination.
“Playing hard, man, that’s the No. 1 thing we preach,” Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford said. “The one thing that you can control 100 percent of the time is how hard you play football.”
The host Patriots and Largo were definitely leaving everything on the field Friday night, but Pinellas Park turned up its energy a little bit more. In a second half riddled with heat-induced cramping — along with one crucial Packesr injury — the Patriots took advantage of physical line play and a big edge in field position to beat Largo 38-14.
“(Largo) coach (Marcus) Paschal always does a great job with defense and special teams,” Crawford said. “They blocked a punt (by senior DeAndre Randall) that gave them a score (on a second-quarter Jeremy Thomas to Tre’son Everett aerial covering 28 yards), then we turned the ball over (to open the second half). We just had to regroup.”
And regroup Pinellas Park (2-0) did.
Despite fumbling at the Largo 2-yard-line to open the second half, failing to pad a 17-14 lead at the time, the Patriots started to show success in running the ball. Behind a plethora of ball carriers, Pinellas Park racked up 172 rushing yards in the second half, possessing the pigskin for a little over 15 of the half’s 24 minutes.
Junior Kentrez Davis, stepping in for an injured Eric Triplett (high ankle sprain), got things rolling by turning a David Smoaks’ third-quarter interception into a 1-yard touchdown run. Then senior Juice Williams capped a 46-yard march set up by a short Largo punt with a physical 2-yard bulldoze into the end zone for his second score of the evening.
“We told the line they’re the most important part of the team,” said Williams after his 18-carry, 78-yard effort. “It’s true, we can’t do anything without them.”
“Coaches were telling us this is what we practice for, why we drive the (blocking) sleds Monday through Friday,” senior center Jacob Johanning said. “We did that in the second half. We did a great job.”
Defense also pitched in as junior Kamrin Canterbury turned the Packers’ first turnover into a first-quarter 21-yard pick-six. Special teams rebounded from a tough Week 1 as Clemson-bound Robert Gunn III drilled a line-drive 46-yard field goal to open the game’s scoring and was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points.
Largo (1-1) had the game’s best drive, an 80-yard second-quarter march that ended on Thomas’ 25-yard pass to Andre Hansen. But the Packers suffered a crucial second-half injury when linebacker Adarius Hayes was carried off the field with a leg injury.
“He and Zayvion McCluster in the middle of the field are big,” Paschal said. “When he went down, we were scrambling.
“Hats off to Pinellas Park. We knew it would be a long game. We just weren’t up to the challenge.”
And Crawford shook off another challenge to helm Friday’s victory.
“I came back from the game (at East Lake last week) and Saturday morning I could barely breathe,” said Crawford, who tested positive for COVID-19 while still recovering from hip replacement surgery. “...This is the first time I’ve been back with the team since last Friday. The coaches and players did a phenomenal job preparing for Largo and I tried not to interfere too much.”