LARGO — "It's not about them, it's about us."
This has been Largo coach Marcus Paschal's slogan for success all season. Don't worry about how good the other team is, worry about staying disciplined and doing your job.
"We tell our kids that every week," Paschal said. "We have a tremendous amount of good talent here and great young men."
Against visiting Clearwater, the Packers made it all about themselves with a masterful stretch of play in all three phases of the game that broke open a tight contest and turned it into a 39-27 win. There is now a three-way tie for the Class 6A, District 9 lead with the Packers, Tornadoes and Boca Ciega. The final state power rankings will determine the district champion.
The defining segment of Friday's game started with 3:11 left in the first half. Clearwater (6-3, 4-1) had its offense moving smartly, taking a 14-3 lead thanks to Qwa'shaun Perry (155 yards of offense) as he had a 6-yard scoring run and 5-yard reception of a Rent Montie pass.
Keon Gulley's fine play fake opened up junior Jayion McCluster for an easy 35-yard TD pitch-and-catch to slice the Tornadoes' lead to 14-9.
Little did anyone know that this was the start of a string of 29 unanswered points for Largo (7-2, 4-1).
"We were down a couple of touchdowns to East Lake and got a 21-0 run in the second half," said Paschal. "We've been here before."
Tony Smith then recovered a Clearwater fumble near midfield and seven plays later, with four-tenths of a second left in the first half, Gulley (202 offensive yards, three TDs) followed Smash Lopez's lead block to the end zone from the one to give the Packers the surprising lead.?
The second half started with Largo's lone turnover of the night near midfield, but Smith definitively erased that bad memory three plays later when he grabbed a tipped Montie pass and traversed 71 yards to the end zone.
"We've got the No. 1 defensive backs coach in Coach Paschal," the senior said. "He worked with me from Day 1, making my footwork better, getting me better with my hands. He worked hard making me better as a football player."
The wheels came off for Clearwater from there. Lopez (three sacks) forced a fumble that became a safety. Largo saw Manny Higgins' TD return of the subsequent kickoff waved off due to a penalty, but still cashed in on Kiontay Brown's 2-yard run that turned an 11-point deficit into an 18-point lead.
"Yeah, c'mon, we're Largo, man. That's how we do it," Paschal said.
Clearwater tried to stay in the hunt on a 6-yard third-quarter TD from Latrez Bradley, but three sacks from Bethal Miles hindered the visitors' production while a 70-yard Gulley-to-Khaishef Edwards pass essentially locked up the win.
"(The Tornadoes) have big-time players," Miles said. "We knew we had to come out of the gates, apply some pressure and play within ourselves."
"Our game plan was to punish them (with the running game) at first then start to open thing up a little," Gulley said. "We got rolling, and once we got rolling, you can't really stop us then."
Clearwater made the score more respectable with a 10-yard Montie-to-Keedrik Murray TD pass on the game's final play.
"Tell everyone to keep making us the underdogs," Paschal said with a smile. "I haven't gotten to the point where I'm a good enough of a coach to show my kids how to handle success. But we dang sure can handle adversity, so keep picking the other team."