ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg junior quarterback Jeff Jones was a spinning, speedy nightmare for the Pinellas Park defense Friday night.
The 5-foot-8 Jones was often the shortest player on the field and would seem to be tackled and swarmed only to pop through a hole and rip off a long run.
In the end, he rushed 25 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns and led his team to a key 17-10 victory in Class 3M, District 8.
With only one more district game remaining on the schedule, against winless Hollins, the Green Devils (5-2, 2-0) could be well on their way to their first district title in several years.
“This was huge for us,” said Jones, who the previous two years has seen his team rise from a 1-9 record to 7-4 in 2022. “We’ve stayed together and kept working toward this goal. I’m so proud to be a part of this.”
Pinellas Park (5-3, 1-1) didn’t make it easy.
After the first quarter the teams were scoreless and at halftime St. Petersburg was clinging to a 7-3 lead following a 50-yard field goal at the first-half buzzer by Pinellas Park freshman Omar Saucedo.
“But I felt we still would get it done,” Jones said. “I wanted the ball because I always feel we can make something happen when we work together.”
They did with Jones and a host of other heroes, including kicker/punter Luis Carranza, who nailed a 40-yard field to put the Green Devils ahead 10-3 early in the fourth quarter and who minutes earlier bombed a 77-yard punt to help dig St. Petersburg out of a hole.
Defensively there were, among many stars, linebacker Ladamein Stinson, tackle Clifton Stone and end Patrick Walker, who applied constant pressure and collected five sacks.
In the waning minutes there was defensive back Bobby McAfee, who picked off a pass and helped set up Jones’ final highlight reel, which included a 57-yard run while eluding at least seven direct tacklers and another spinning, darting, squirming, driving 39-yard touchdown run.
“Jeff Jones is absolutely amazing,” St. Petersburg coach Denis Gillen said of his junior, who is among the state’s leaders, averaging 196.2 rushing yards a game. “And he’s as amazing off the field as he is on it. He is a leader and he is just a great, great kid. We all love him.”
On the final drive of the night, after Pinellas Park scored on a late 49-yard touchdown pass, Jones and St. Petersburg answered by grinding out the final four minutes, 26 seconds over 44 yards, much of it thanks to the Green Devils’ tough offensive line and Jones’ hard running.
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“We took care of business right there,” Gillen said. “And for us to win that drive and finish this game without any fumbles and mistakes, that was something we haven’t done for years. We feel like we’ve stepped up to the top-tier teams in Pinellas County and it feels good. This group has a lot to be proud of.”