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Clearwater Central Catholic ready for nationally-ranked rival

The turnover battle may be key in this private school matchup, with CCC and Jesuit both excelling at takeaways.
Clearwater Central Catholic junior Nate Johnson is a force to be reckoned with as a receiver and a cornerback for the 4-1 Marauders.
Clearwater Central Catholic junior Nate Johnson is a force to be reckoned with as a receiver and a cornerback for the 4-1 Marauders. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 7
Updated Oct. 7

TAMPA — Jesuit will dress 82 players Friday night. Clearwater Central Catholic will dress 40.

Jesuit will not have any athlete play on both sides of the ball. CCC will have multiple guys playing multiple positions, offensively, defensively and on special teams.

Advantage Jesuit? Not so fast.

“CCC may not have a lot of guys, but there is no doubt all those guys can play,” Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said. “No way we’re taking them for granted.”

That’s quite a nod of respect, considering the Tigers (5-0) are 14th in the country and No. 3 in Florida by MaxPreps — rankings bolstered in the season’s second week after Jesuit defeated Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas 24-21 when the Raiders were No. 6 in the country.

The Marauders (4-1) counter with a No. 3 ranking in Class 3A while standing at No. 40 in the overall state rankings.

CCC coach Chris Harvey says he knows all that stuff and is keeping it all in perspective.

“We need to go into this game not thinking that we are playing the 14th-ranked team in the country,” he said. “We need to play our game of football and that’s it. We prepare for what an opponent does, but we never let an opponent dictate what we do. We’re focused on what we’re doing. That’s all we ever do.”

Clearwater Central Catholic coach Chris Harvey has the Marauders ranked No. 3 in Class 3A heading into a big game Friday night against Jesuit.
Clearwater Central Catholic coach Chris Harvey has the Marauders ranked No. 3 in Class 3A heading into a big game Friday night against Jesuit. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

That means CCC will focus on running the ball (averaging 186 yards a game), while mixing in some passing (163 yards a game) and doing it all very efficiently (one turnover through five games).

Defensively, look for the Marauders to be opportunistic given that they have collected 14 takeaways, making them a whopping plus-13 in the turnover ratio.

When told about his team’s turnover advantage, CCC linebacker Melvin Jordan said he didn’t know the numbers.

“Our coaches don’t talk about it,” said the senior, who leads the team with an average of eight tackles a game. “They don’t say, ‘You have to get turnovers.’ They preach follow your assignments, run around and play hard. It’s all about hard work, hard play, everybody running to the ball. If you play hard then turnovers will turn in your favor. That’s all we know.”

Jesuit learned a bit about turnover advantage when it collected six in its win over Aquinas, but in the same game also gave the ball away three times.

“That’s my No. 1 point every time I write on the board,” said Thompson, whose team is plus-8 in the turnover margin this season. “Win the turnover battle.”

Specifically, Jesuit will keep a close eye on CCC junior running back Lenwood Sapp (84 carries, 655 yards), senior quarterback Bryson Martin (59-of-79, 814 passing yards) and junior receiver Nate Johnson (24 receptions, 484 yards). Johnson, by the way, also plays cornerback, where he has two picks and 70 return yards.

CCC junior Lenwood Sapp has 84 carries for 655 yards and three touchdowns.
CCC junior Lenwood Sapp has 84 carries for 655 yards and three touchdowns. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

CCC will have to focus on Tiger running back Joquez Smith (91 carries, 760 yards) and a passing attack that features sophomore quarterback Luke Knight (61-of-87, 923 yards) and no fewer than eight solid receivers.

In the overall scheme, Jesuit hopes to simply wear down CCC’s much smaller roster. The Marauders say they’ll be ready.

“I take pride in doing everything we can to physically prepare for games,” Harvey said. “And that’s something we do starting in January. We emphasize strength and conditioning to maximize our work capacity.

“We have to do all the things that allow our guys to play one and half to two times as many snaps as other teams.”

At Tuesday’s varsity practice, Harvey had 29 guys, who make up the varsity roster. The are allowed to bring up some JV players for varsity games.

“We don’t have 90 guys, but I’ll take my 55 (varsity and JV combined) over any other team we’ve played so far,” he said. “We have hard-working kids who pride themselves on being disciplined and accountable. Because of the character or our kids we can ask more of them than what you might have with 90 guys.”

Jordan added: “When you have a smaller group like ours, it really makes you rely on all the guys around you. It makes you stronger as a group. It unites you. We are the most united team on the field every time we step on the field. We know that is true.”