TAMPA — There is no doubt about it, Clearwater Central Catholic is back and looking as strong as ever.
Less than nine months after falling to Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna in the Class 1 Metro state championship game, the Marauders began the 2023 season Friday night in Tampa against a very tough Berkeley Prep squad.
Berkeley, in fact, took an early two-touchdown lead. Quarterback Rico Garcia broke off a 65-yard touchdown run on the game’s second play, and then the Bucs recovered a CCC fumble on the 2-yard line and drove 98 yards for a touchdown.
But CCC, led by dynamic junior quarterback Jershaun Newton, did not blink.
The Marauders (1-0) went on to churn out long drives of their own, hold the Bucs’ offense in check and score the final three touchdowns to win, 21-14.
“Yes, we were down 14-0, but we also knew we had given ourselves a few self-inflicted wounds with the fumble and a few missed tackles and other mistakes,” said CCC coach Chris Harvey, in his eighth season with the Marauders. “We knew if we cleaned those things up we could turn it around.”
Newton, who finished with eight carries for 73 yards and 12 completions in 15 attempts for 167 yards, had a lot to do with righting the ship. It started with a 70-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter to cut the gap to 14-7.
There were, however, a couple of scares along the way to the final finish line, including a calf cramp that sidelined Newton for a good 10 minutes midway through the third quarter. Backup Andy Jaffe stepped in and rushed for the tying touchdown, from 3 yards away.
“Next time I’m going to drink plenty of water before the game, days even before the game,” Newton said. “I can’t take that chance again. That was the worst cramp I’ve ever had. I didn’t know if I could still run on it.”
On the next series, Newton threw five straight completions, “giving my running a little break,” he said.
Newton again had the Marauders on the move for an apparent game-sealing touchdown before he threw a rare interception that bounced off two CCC receivers.
Berkeley (0-1) drove to the Marauders’ 17-yard line with 1:06 remaining before completing its final pass 2 yards short of a first down.
“We found a way to get it done against a very good, well-coached Berkeley Prep team and that feels good,” Harvey said. “We have a lot of talent back from last year, including some big-time skill players, but we also have a lot of new faces that continue to blend in.
“The goal of winning a state title remains the same, and that means we have to continue getting tough tests like we did tonight, and continue learning from it and getting better.”