CLEARWATER — Being blessed with one of the more athletic squads he’s had during his tenure at Clearwater Central Catholic has allowed coach Chris Harvey an unusual luxury.
“We’ve got kids that it doesn’t really take a lot of coaching (for them to excel),” Harvey said. “We just try to put them in position so they can do what they do.”
After a street fight of a first half Friday night against unbeaten Tampa Catholic, those athletes were in positions for a second half full of house calls — starting with senior London Hall’s 72-yard return of the kickoff — and kept the pedal to the metal in an impressive 38-21 victory.
Thunderous hits from the Marauders’ Mike Vallez along with Nahiem Doctor and Lewis Carter of the Crusaders brought oohs and aahs from the crowd in the opening 24 minutes, one that ended in a 7-7 deadlock.
A tipped pass on CCC’s first possession became an 18-yard pick-6 for junior Corey Lucius Jr., his second of the young season. The Marauders answered late in the first half on a savvy 73-yard dash home from workhorse junior Lenwood Sapp (15 carries for 143 yards).
But when Hall broke the tie 14 seconds into the second half, the tide turned CCC’s way.
“We can’t give up momentum, especially in the second half,” Tampa Catholic coach Jeris McIntyre said. “(The Marauders) came out and ran that kick back and got that momentum. It kind of flipped the game.”
And it also flipped a switch for CCC junior Nate Johnson, who rang up three masterful touchdowns in the second half.
First he split three defenders on a short Bryson Martin pass and flew down the left sideline 52 yards to paydirt. He then capped a streak of three touchdowns in just 5:31 by masterfully picking off a TC pass and navigating 84 yards to the end zone for a 28-7 advantage.
“I knew they were going to work the one-receiver side; I knew they would try me,” Johnson said. “I read it, picked it and took it to the house.”
After TC’s Carter romped 67 yards untouched to score on a third-quarter off-tackle carry, Johnson opened the fourth by deking the Crusader secondary inside, then fading to the sideline to haul in Martin’s 26-yard scoring toss unchallenged.
“The coaches gave us a talk at halftime,” said Johnson, who racked up 229 all-purpose yards in the victory. “We ran through our plays, fixes our mistakes and executed in the second half.”
“We’ve always had two or three good athletes with a bunch of blue-collar, hard-working type guys,” Harvey said. “This year, we have eight, nine, 10 athletes that are just as good, if not better, than any we’ve had here. To have a QB like Bryson (7 of 12 for 120 yards) to get the ball to them and an offensive line that’s shown we can run the ball … that allows us to be as multiple and as diverse as we’ve ever been.”
CCC (2-1) capped its scoring on a 30-yard Claudio Cosenza field goal while Tampa Catholic (2-1) responded immediately with an 88-yard kick return sprint for six by senior Jaquise Alexander.
“We’re a young team and I take pride that we fought for four quarters,” said McIntyre, who shuffled through three quarterbacks trying to discover his squad’s starter. “It’s a good learning lesson but we’ve got to get better as we get down to the stretch of our schedule.”
“Last year (when the Marauders finished 5-5 and didn’t make the state final four for the first time in four seasons) was a massacre,” Johnson said. “Starting with summer workouts, we knew we had to come together and play our ball game. We’ve just got to bond a little bit more as a team, reduce our mistakes and continue to get better.”