CLEARWATER — Clearwater Central Catholic kicked off to Tampa Catholic to begin Friday’s Class 3A, Region 3 semifinal matchup, and the Crusaders made the most of their first possession, moving the ball 80 yards on 15 plays while eating up nearly nine minutes on the clock.
Junior running back Lewis Carter capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to give Tampa Catholic the early lead.
Much to CCC coach Chris Harvey’s delight, his Marauders made sure it was the only success the Crusaders had all night.
Tampa Catholic never made it past the CCC 30-yard line for the rest of the game. The Marauders, meanwhile, took advantage of their offensive depth and big gains on special teams to cruise to a 31-7 victory.
CCC plays Berkeley Prep in next week’s region final.
“(The Crusaders) did a good job that first drive,” Harvey said. “It wasn’t like we were playing warm butter defense; (the Crusaders) were earning every yard. I think the greatest thing our defense did was they didn’t allow that first drive of physicality to set the tone. We were able to set the tone as we went on.”
CCC (8-3) possessed the ball only once in the first quarter following Tampa Catholic’s opening touchdown drive, but early in the second, wide receiver Nate Johnson caught a short pass from quarterback Bryson Martin, then took off for a 77-yard touchdown. CCC scored on its next possession, too, on a 3-yard touchdown run from freshman athlete Jershaun Newton.
Newton, who went into the game with six touchdowns and nearly 250 rushing yards, is the fifth Newton brother to suit up for the Marauders.
“He doesn’t play like a freshman. He’s a kid that’s kind of stepped into a big role for us,” Harvey said about Newton, who also had an 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. “I think the reason why he’s able to be as successful as he has been is the fact that he works hard. He doesn’t take anything for granted. He doesn’t try to overdo things; he just does what we ask him to do.”
CCC took a 14-7 lead into halftime, but after the break, the Marauders wasted no time extending it. Cornerback London Hall returned the opening kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown.
The closest Tampa Catholic (7-4) got to a response happened in the third quarter, when the Marauders fumbled in their territory and the Crusaders recovered. But on the next play, Tampa Catholic quarterback Trey Hedden threw an interception.
Newton knows Berkeley Prep is a tall next task for his team. Berkeley Prep beat its first playoff opponent 38-0 on Friday. The Bucs beat CCC 35-21 in the season opener.
Newton is determined not to end his season how it started.
“We expect (the Bucs) to have a good run game … like the last time we played them,” he said. “I can do my job, get tackles, and help the team at any cost.”