LARGO — For the second straight week, Largo mounted a big comeback against a high-quality opponent. But the Packers again fell just short.
With possession of the ball and three minutes remaining in the game, Largo found itself stymied by a Clearwater defense that stepped up when it mattered most.
The Tornadoes (4-1) stopped the Packers on downs at their 38-yard line in the final minute, emerging from the emotional rivalry battle with a 15-12 victory.
“We’ve just got to play a full game of football,” said Largo head coach Marcus Paschal. “For the last few weeks, we haven’t.”
When the Packers (1-3) were clicking, they were electrifying.
The defense led by linebacker Zayvion McCluster and Adarius Hayes held a productive Clearwater offense to just 85 yards in a scoreless second half.
Senior Deondre Randall showed off his speed, taking a handoff around right end and sprinting 69 yards to score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
After senior Andre Hansen ended a potential game-settling Tornadoes drive with an interception in his own end zone, quarterback Jeremy Thomas and wideout Tre’son Everett rewarded the effort with points.
Everett elevated along the left sideline, pulled in a Thomas toss and got a foot inbounds for a clutch 28-yard reception. Four plays later, Everett outwrestled Clearwater’s Maceo Bennett for the ball in the end zone, completing a 25-yard touchdown catch to cut Largo’s deficit to three.
The Packers got one final shot, but the Tornadoes stopped them in their tracks.
Senior Aiden Bell prevented Largo’s last two-point conversion attempt, then added a pair of tide-turning tackle and a sack. A huge sack from Jonquis Bonney — the Tornadoes’ sixth of the night — turned a short third-down play into fourth-and-nine, where linebacker Stephon Boyd’s tipped pass created an incompletion that silenced Largo’s fans and sent Clearwater’s into celebration mode.
“Obviously, we were motivated,” Bell said. “We wanted to get a stop, we wanted to win the game, and the defense wanted to be the ones to do it.”
Exclaimed Clearwater coach Thor Jozwiak, “This is the most complete game this team has played. In my honest opinion, to control the emotions of a rivalry game, to respond to Largo, to be able to overcome, is huge.”
Just like last week against Gaither, the second quarter was Largo’s downfall. Clearwater scored all of its points in the frame.
Senior quarterback Aidan MacLean (10-of-21, 162 yards) rifled a 40-yard laser to David James (six catches, 132 yards) before hitting C.J. Lee on a 12-yard fade for a touchdown on the first play of the quarter.
A James fumble recovery led to a 12-play, 77-yard drive that was aided by two costly Packer penalties. MacLean called his own number on a nine-yard run into the end zone with 1:16 left.
Clearwater got the ball right back when Bell forced a fumble that Bonney recovered. Sophomore Stephano Calderon converted a 30-yard field goal as time ended in the half for a 15-0 lead.
“It feels really good to win, but it’s always on to the next,” Bell said. “We’re always looking to get better every week.”