JOHN C. COTEY
St. Petersburg beats Northeast 20-14 to move into a tie for second place in 5A-9.
St. Petersburg coach Todd St. Louis has seen bigger leads evaporate, the lights go out before games, silly fumbles and wacky interceptions at critical moments.
So when his Green Devils had a punt of -12 yards, fumbled and threw an interception in the fourth quarter while trying to protect a lead Thursday night, he didn't blink an eye.
"I've been through so much here ... I have faith in our team," he said.
Which his defense rewarded. Despite the gaffes, the Green Devils hung on, beating Northeast 20-14 and enhancing its playoff hopes.
An interception with a minute remaining by Reggie Clark sealed the Class 5A, District 9 win and drew the Green Devils, 1-1 in league play, to a tie with Seminole and Gibbs for second.
It was the second straight year the Green Devils beat Northeast after at least 15 straight losses to the Vikings.
The Vikings fell to 0-2 in the district, likely bringing an end to its eight-year string of consecutive playoff appearances. They were never able to find an offensive rhythm, driving once for 75 yards and a score but unable to do much more. Their second touchdown, a Jerrell Lamb 22-yard run, came on the first play following the -12-yard punt as a result of a bad snap.
Trailing 20-14, they got two more chances to take the lead, thanks to a fumble and interception, but only managed 12 net yards on the drives.
Credit the Green Devil defense, which was dominant in the first half and good enough in the second. Paul Douglas had three sacks and a tackle for a loss in the first half and Todd St. Louis, the coach's son, and Robert Blakes ran for long touchdowns to make it 14-0 at the break. The defensive line kept Northeast from breaking any long runs down the stretch and held twice on fourth downs.
The Green Devils offense used seven running backs to gain 244 yards for the game, led by 91 yards by Blakes and 59 by St. Louis. And quarterback Jared Paletti, who was 0-for-5 in the first half, completed several crucial passes in the second half to stem Northeast's momentum.
After Lamb's first touchdown that made it 14-7, Paletti completed passes on third and 10 and third and 17 to get the Green Devils down to the Vikings' 10. After a penalty made it second and 18, he found Donald Bowens on a fade route for St. Petersburg's final score, and one it would need.