CLEARWATER — This was a victory that was a couple of seasons — and a couple of deflating defeats — in the making.
Riding out the maturation of a younger squad, Clearwater Central Catholic took its lumps, especially at the hands of Berkeley Prep. After running off three of four victories head-to-head during their state final four days, the Marauders dropped their last three meetings to the Bucs, including last year’s Class 3A region final.
“They remember what it felt like that night,” CCC coach Chris Harvey said Friday night. “And they don’t want things to end that way this year.”
Those now battle-tested Marauders impressively turned the tide in a season-opening 24-7 victory that never felt as close as the score indicated.
“It’s not that we haven’t been talented but this team’s a couple of years in the making,” Harvey said. “Now they’re aged and experienced and they’re ready to take on the challenge.”
With the combination of a beefy defensive line with mobile edge rushers like quad captain Carson Schiavello and Ryan Gross, CCC kept Berkeley Prep’s offense bottled up all night, yielding only 117 total yards.
“We got a lot of pressure and forced (the Bucs) to throw the ball,” said Schiavello, who racked up three of the Marauders’ five sacks and added a forced fumble. “They missed on a lot of passes (going only 8-of-22) and they didn’t get any yardage whenever they ran the ball so it was good.”
Gross had three tackles for loss and quad captain Shane Elam added a forced fumble for the defense.
Field position was also an issue as the Bucs started eight of their 10 possessions within their own 25-yard line. This allowed CCC to take an early 2-0 lead when an errant snap deep in Berkeley territory flew over the punter’s head and through the end zone for a safety.
From there, despite suffering three lost fumbles and two in the red zone, the Marauder offense started to click behind Jershaun Newton and his savvy marshaling of a deceptive option offense.
Scrambling to turn long third-down plays into first downs, hitting on timely passes along the way, Newton lived up to his family’s history at the school.
“They don’t put no pressure on me,” Newton said of his talented relatives. “I just feel like I’m better than them.”
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It showed in Week 1 as the sophomore finished with 219 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
“We work hard in practice, we put in more hours after practice, we worked hard this summer,” said Newton, who found senior David Green for an 8-yard touchdown and 9-2 halftime lead, then iced the game by turning a short Berkeley punt into a 2-yard rushing score.
Running back Lenwood Sapp (12 carries, 46 yards) added a 13-yard run to the house in the third quarter.
Berkeley’s lone score came when a blocked field goal set up a short field that quarterback Troy Reader converted into a 4-yard, fourth-down scoring pass to Damien Henderson.
“We made too many mistakes,” lamented Bucs coach Dominick Ciao.”Missed tackles, missed blocks, mistakes on special teams … We’ve got to get back at it. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”