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Practice makes near-perfect in Clearwater’s win over Boca Ciega

The Tornadoes played what head coach Thor Jozwiak called their “most complete game” of the season.
Head coach Thor Jozwiak called Clearwater's 47-20 win over Boca Ciega “the most complete game we’ve played this season."
Head coach Thor Jozwiak called Clearwater's 47-20 win over Boca Ciega “the most complete game we’ve played this season." [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 6

CLEARWATER — Little things, big rings. That’s been Thor Jozwiak’s philosophy ever since he was hired as Clearwater’s head coach less than a year ago. Do everything the right way on and off the field.

It was the mantra his squad bought into during summer workouts and carried with it into a rainy, relatively meaningless regular-season finale against Boca Ciega.

The Tornadoes had already locked up a home postseason slot by winning the Class 5A-10 title and were playing a Pirates squad that was fighting for at least a playoff spot and at most a 6A-11 crown if the chips fell right.

In what Jozwiak termed “the most complete game we’ve played this season,” the Tornadoes took down the Pirates 47-20 and will take a nine-game winning streak — and tons of momentum — into the playoffs.

“We saw everybody sell out for everybody else on the team,” a Gatorade-soaked Jozwiak said after the game. “We saw that from the whole team, the energy was so positive.”

Even after losing two fumbles, Clearwater (9-1) never lost focus. Even when Boca Ciega (now 6-4) turned one turnover into the second Connor Dugan-to-Andre Hall touchdown connection and a 20-20 tie with 46 seconds left in the half, the Tornadoes had an answer.

“We practice sudden change all year,” Jozwiak said. “We were ready. Everybody stepped up.”

And when senior David James returned the subsequent kickoff to the Pirate 30, then hauled in an Aidan MacLean TD bomb on the very next play, giving Clearwater back the lead 18 seconds after it was lost, the game was essentially over.

“We work on literally the smallest details every day,” said senior Stephon Byrd (six tackles, two for loss) of the preparation that contributed to the second-half shutout. “We challenge what we consider the best offense in Pinellas County every day in practice, then we come out on Friday and work.”

Then, the offense scored on three straight possessions and put the game away.

“We take a lot of pride in our success, and that comes from practice, doing what we’ve got to do,” said workhorse running back Efrem Only, who rolled up 159 yards and a late TD on 25 carries. “We know we’ve got to finish every job.”

MacLean added 170 yards and TDs to James, C.J. Lee and Byrd to his record-setting season. Byrd also found the end zone on his only carry of the night. Wildcat QB Jonquis Bonney turned four carries into 91 yards and a TD. James played halfback and tacked on a 24-yard score.

In all, Clearwater put up 476 yards of offense in preparation for what it hopes will be a deep playoff run.

“Coach Thor came in and changed the whole program,” Byrd said. “It was the little things that we didn’t have right. Now everything we do is new, and we buy into it.”

“All of the players, the coaches, the administration, the parents, the support staff, the community … it took everybody to create this culture and make it complete,” Jozwiak concluded. “We’re on the cusp of something really special.”