GULFPORT — Considering the past two weeks that Marcus Paschal had to navigate, it is impossible to consider Largo’s 21-0 shutout win over host Boca Ciega on Friday night as anything less than pretty.
It started off with typical rainy weather that not only wiped out an early-season benchmark game against a strong Lakeland squad but it crippled practice continuity, an important commodity for his youthful team.
“We really haven’t been able to get even two solid days of practice together,” the Packers coach said. “We haven’t been able to get on the field consistently as a team.”
Then illnesss ran rampant throughout the roster. “We had 12 to 15 kids out with COVID or flu-like symptoms,” Paschal said.
But thanks to a Largo-like brick wall of a defense, the Packers (2-0) were able to survive a rocky first half Friday by forcing the Pirates (1-2) into three turnovers and emerging with a 7-0 advantage.
With an intuitive, aggressive approach to his game, four-star linebacker Adarius Hayes almost single-handedly shut down a Bogie offense that was already missing starting quarterback Talon Hughes to a leg injury. Bolting up the middle, hitting holes before Pirate running backs could, Hayes had two tackles for loss, a quarterback pressure and a forced fumble recovered by teammate Jacobi McDaniel in the opening 24 minutes.
Dayvion Jackson and Fotu Nafitali also scooped up loose balls for the Packers.
“We didn’t know what to expect, pass or run, so we just played our butts off,” said Hayes, a recruit on the radar of Florida, Notre Dame and Georgia, among others, who finished with 13 tackles on the night. “We wanted to get the win and also play together as a team. We’re family, we’re all brothers and we’ve got to play as one.”
“Adarius and (standout senior linebacker) Zayvion McCluster are probably one of the best 1-2 combos in the state, if not the country,” Paschal said. “They’re both savvy players and are the heartbeat of our team.”
In the second half, Largo’s offense found its footing behind running back Malachi Peterson and some confident deep throws from fellow junior Jeremy Thomas.
“I’m the kind of player that adjusts to my situations and I did what I had to do,” Peterson said of the spongy turf he had to work with. “I got positive yards and just played ball, man. That’s all I’m worried about.”
Peterson finished with 166 yards on 20 carries including scoring runs of 3 yards in the first quarter and 4 yards in the fourth, set up by a Marcus McCluster interception, the fifth Bogie turnover of the game.
Chase Green also added a second-half pick for the victors.
Thomas (128 passing yards) stepped up in the third quarter to spark a 65-yard march capped by Preston Church’s 20-yard touchdown catch. The senior finished with three catches for 75 yards in the victory.
“We don’t want to skate through our season, that’s why we schedule teams like Lakeland and Lakewood,” Paschal said. “We missed out on one opportunity but we still have a tough schedule ahead and we look forward to getting better, growing and jelling as a team.”