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Largo stays focused when points are hard to come by, regains footing

A tough Sickles defense means points are scarce early, but the Packers find a way to win and stay alive in the playoff hunt.
Largo has now won three in a row after Friday's night's 25-7 victory over district foe Sickles.
Largo has now won three in a row after Friday's night's 25-7 victory over district foe Sickles. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 23

LARGO — Despite stellar field position throughout the first half — starting three drives in Sickles territory — Largo held a mere three-point lead come halftime Friday night.

Thanks to a pair of turnovers along with 77 yards in penalties, the host Packers could have headed south as they did during a frustrating month-long losing streak highlighted by such maladies.

Instead, Largo stayed strong. Riding an aggressive defensive effort until the offense started turning that prime real estate into points, the Packers closed strong for a 25-7 victory that extended its current win streak to three and keeps them in the hunt for a Class 7A playoff berth.

“I’ve been telling them all week, without (a win Friday), nothing else matters,” Packers coach Marcus Paschal said. “We’re on the outside looking in (for a postseason berth) and if we lost (to the Gryphons) we’re basically closing the window.”

The ninth-ranked team in Region 3, Largo (4-4, 2-1 7A-9) repeatedly ran into the brick wall that was the defensive front seven of No. 12 Sickles (4-4, 0-2). Led by junior Erich Raymond (nine tackles, forced fumble and recovery) and sophomore Rufus Ferguson (seven tackles, two for loss), the Gryphons held Largo to a first-quarter 22-yard Will Pace field goal and were looking to stuff the hosts on their third trip into the red zone.

“It’s one of the youngest defenses I’ve ever coached, and if we keep them all for next year it’ll be one of the best defenses ever at Sickles High School,” Gryphons coach Patrick Murphy said.

But when sophomore quarterback Jeremy Thomas ran into trouble on fourth down at the Sickles 6, instead of panicking, he pitched the ball back to senior Tre’son Everett. Converting from blocker to ball carrier, Everett weaved his way to the end zone with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

“I saw out of the corner of my eye (Thomas) being tackled so I just popped back, he pitched it back to me and the rest is history,” Everett said. “We made eye contact and that was that.”

Despite an offense missing its top two rushers (sophomore Gabriel Laing and senior Trevor Joyce) along with one of its best receivers in Javohn Thomas, Sickles stayed close thanks to a perfect connection from sophomore quarterback Brandon Royal to senior Jakari Williams covering 79 yards with three minutes left in the third quarter.

But from there, the Gryphons were mired in their own end of the field and didn’t register a first down the rest of the way.

Then Largo’s defense got in the act as Deondre Randall (seven tackles) and Nafitalai Nauvai (two tackles for loss) sacked Royal for a safety with 4:23 left to play.

“I go all out so I can condition myself and give a better performance,” said Randall, who excelled on offense, defense and special teams Friday.

Everett closed out a special second half with a pair of touchdown receptions. Stopping short after taking a reverse handoff, junior Jazion Cross instead tossed an 18-yard spiral to a wide open Everett in the right side of the end zone. Two minutes later, with 23 seconds left to play, Thomas let Everett utilize his athleticism to soar over a Gryphon defender and snag a 17-yard floater for another six-pointer.

“It feels great when I get to go up and get it, but even if it’s not there I try to make a play,” Everett said. “I try to help out my quarterback.”

“A few weeks back everybody counted us out but I told (the players) that nobody matters but the people in this locker room,” Paschal said. “They’re tuned in.”