The Rebels jump on the Packers and win 16-7 thanks to one big plays and one long drive.
By JAMAL THALJI
Published October 16, 2004
LARGO - From the bell, Dixie Hollins trapped Largo in a corner and didn't let up.
A surprise uppercut landed first. The Rebels took the opening kick 93 yards in nine plays to score first. A quick flurry in the half's final two minutes led to an 82-yard drive and field goal. Dixie Hollins kept jabbing for 191 rushing yards in the first half, 330 total.
The knockout blow came with 8:44 left. A shot to the head and calf left Largo star running back Dexter McCluster on his back. Gingerly, the Packers' only hope made his way to the sideline.
It was over.
Dixie Hollins won 16-7, and it wasn't even that close. Second-place in Class 4A, District 9 belongs to the Rebels (5-1, 2-1) after keeping the Packers (3-3, 2-1) on the ropes, and the canvas, for much of homecoming at Packer Stadium.
Last year Dixie Hollins started 5-1, in playoff contention, until losses to Largo and Tarpon Springs. A win at Tarpon Springs next week could end an eight-year playoff absence, the longest in Pinellas County.
"Last year we were (5-1) and then we started to lose games," Rebels running back Dan Puckett said. "But this year we wanted to keep it rolling in the second half of the season.
"We just wanted to win bad."
Puckett and his teammates certainly have grown up since that week three loss to undefeated Countryside, winning four straight since falling to the 4A-9 leader.
On the opening drive Anthony Wright took an end-around right for 56 yards, setting up Puckett's 1-yard bullrush into the end zone with 6:54 left in the first quarter.
Dixie Hollins never let McCluster break off one of his patented long gainers, and forced a punt with two minutes left. The Rebels skillfully drove 82 yards, giving Jared Lohden a 24-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to go up 10-0 at halftime.
After a scoreless third McCluster finally broke out in the fourth. His 46-yard punt return - he caught it off the bounce - set up this Sports Center-worthy highlight: He rolled right to attempt a halfback pass, had to tuck the ball in, cut left, then back right, then dove for the touchdown to complete an amazing 13-yard run with 10:55 left.
But then Dixie Hollins imposed its will on Largo's injury-depleted defense one more time, and Puckett bullied his way 34 yards for the deciding touchdown with 10:09 left. Two minutes later, McCluster left the game, and any comeback hopes left with him.
Pucket rushed 20 times for 126 yards and two scores, Wright ran for 100 yards and Anthony O'Banner for 93. McCluster had 111 yards - but only averaged 4.8 yards per carry, down from his 7.3 season average.
"We just couldn't stop them," Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said. "I think we knew what we wanted to do, we just couldn't stop them."