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Boca Ciega shuts down previously unbeaten Northeast in second half

The Pirates defense is a strength down the stretch, finding a new gear as Boca Ciega overcomes a 13-0 deficit.
Boca Ciega gets a big district win Friday night, beating previously undefeated Northeast 21-13.
Boca Ciega gets a big district win Friday night, beating previously undefeated Northeast 21-13. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 16
Updated Oct. 16

ST. PETERSBURG — Despite missing injured Iowa State commit D’Angelo Hutchinson, undefeated Northeast proffered a commanding ball-control attack against host Boca Ciega.

The Vikings had a strangehold on the ball, running 68 plays covering 30 of Friday’s 48-minute contest. Junior Markese Norfleet followed a 305-yard effort against Countryside last week by taking his first handoff and ripping off a 60-yard sprint to the house as part of a 119-yard stat line.

The Northeast defense also showed up as Keyno Tyson, Derrick Brantley and Jermaine Swain each had fumble recoveries.

Through it all, however, Bogie bent but never broke. With a big play from quarterback Connor Dugan and tons of back-breaking stops from their defense, the Pirates persevered for a 21-13 victory that gives them the inside track to the Class 6A, District 11 title.

“We knew we had to stop their run game and that was tough,” Boca Ciega coach Matt Gudorf said. “We had to step up and make plays when we had to.”

And the Pirates (now 5-2, 3-0) did just that.

After junior quarterback Dashaun Reese (7-of-9 for 122 yards in alternating with senior Aidan Gardner) hit Tyson on a perfect post pattern for a 40-yard touchdown and a 13-0 Vikings advantage with 5:06 left in the first half, Northeast (6-1, 2-1) wouldn’t find the end zone again.

Two drives totaling 28 plays and almost 15 minutes came up empty on long missed field goals. With the game on the line, and despite the loss of Norfleet to a leg injury, the Vikings drove 59 yards in 13 plays only to get stuffed on downs at the Bogie 26. Demontae Gifford (seven tackles, four for lost yardage, one batted pass) was a force in the late stages as was Zalien Stephens, whose fourth-down tackle got the ball back for the Pirates.

“We knew we had more heart. We’ve been grinding it out all season and we knew we’d have a better game,” Gifford said. “(Northeast’s) record never fazed us.”

Bogie’s comeback road started late in the first half when Frederico Freeman blocked a Northeast punt at the visitors’ 17. Two plays and a penalty later, Darrell Lee found the end zone from 5 yards out with 14 seconds left to cut the gap to 13-7.

Facing second and 21 from the Bogie 34 to start the second half, Dugan jump-started his own personal turnaround by drilling a strike to Andre Hall that the senior toted home for the hosts’ first lead of the night.

“Connor went through his whole progression on that play,” Gudorf said of Dugan, who threw for 140 yards in the second half. “He saw Andre on the post and let it go.”

After a potential insurance score went by the wayside due to a lost fumble, the Pirates’ MJ Harrell righted the ship with a savvy lunging interception that became a 3-yard pick-six with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.

On what would be the game-clinching score, Harrell said: “I’m a versatile player. I try to stay on my feet and make a play. We’re still going to fight and we’re never going to lay down.”

And Gudorf concluded after Bogie’s fourth straight win over Northeast: “That’s a good football team and we knew we’d be in for a struggle, but we believed in ourselves. We told the kids to be ready for a battle and we were.”