After two straight losses and a lethargic first half in the regular-season finale on Friday against Northeast, Largo’s head coach decided to get retro.
“I was very calm early in the season,” Paschal said. “I don’t know if (the players) got that sense of complacency in the last couple of weeks or not but it was (ticking) me off.”
Trailing to the visiting Vikings 7-0, seeing Largo’s playoff chances seemingly slipping away, Paschal lit into his squad, especially star linebacker Adarius Hayes, benching him for a few plays to really get his point across.
The junior responded as did the rest of the Packers, turning up the heat on Northeast quarterback Evan Jacobson and rebounding for a thrilling 14-13 victory.
Hayes had a pair of interceptions that could have turned into pick-6s if not for blocking fouls after the snipes.
“When I started making plays, other people started making plays,” Hayes said. “Once we all got the energy, the crowd got the energy and we just played together as a team.”
After the second interception early in the second half, quarterback Jeremy Thomas (146 offensive yards) settled down and drove the offense. Hitting Chase Green (five catches, 75 yards) for 27 yards got Largo (7-2) deep in Northeast (5-5) turf, then Thomas authored a savvy 19-yard scramble followed by a 2-yard carry to the end zone to tie it.
“I saw the defensive end come up so I slipped under him, then I let my legs do the talking,” said Thomas of the long jaunt that set up his scoring run.
But the Vikings — specifically the tandem of Jacobson and senior receiver Cory Conklin — wouldn’t quit, retaking the lead on the next drive.
After a 14-yard connection to start the possession, Conklin soared over Largo defender Marcus McCluster to snag the 42-yard TD touchdown. Conklin finished with nine catches for 166 yards and two TDs, the first capping a perfect 7-for-7 passing start for Jacobson (16-of-26, 216 yards) with a 17-yard scoring catch.
But Jacobi McDaniel deflected the point-after kick wide left, leaving Largo a sliver of a chance at victory.
Gaining more steam after a pick of a Viking screen pass by junior defensive lineman Angelo Elliott, Malachi Peterson’s running (17 carries for 68 yards) and a pair of Thomas completions drew Largo to the Northeast 11. Sophomore Colin Cervoni ran a perfect skinny post and Thomas hit him on the numbers for the TD. William Pace then drilled the PAT.
“Me and Collin have a lot of chemistry,” Thomas said. “I can go to him whenever I need a catch.”
In the 10 minutes left to play, Northeast got two more shots with the ball. Faced with a fourth and long from the Largo 39, coach Shawn Davis decided to punt, pinning the Packers at their own 9. But Largo’s resurgent running game not only drove the team clear of danger but tapped out all of Northeast’s timeouts before giving the ball back with just 33 seconds left.
A desperation Jacobson pass from deep in his own territory was snagged by Packer defensive back Davion Jackson and the game was over.
“Last year, we went 9-1, played a not-so-hard schedule and got beat in the first round of the playoffs by Sumter,” Davis said. “We upped the ante this year, played Cardinal Gibbons (in Fort Lauderdale), Lakewood and another playoff contender in Largo. A 5-5 record is not what we wanted, but I think with our percentage points and the rankings, we’ve still got a shot to make the playoffs. We just keep fighting every day and we left it all on the field (Friday).”