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East Lake earns title

Clearwater misses on a fake field goal try and the surprising Eagles are district champs.

JAMAL THALJI
Published October 30, 2004

EAST LAKE - Clearwater running back Jason Harris yelled to no one in particular, then threw his gloves down in disgust. The crowd chanted over-rated, over-rated as the coaches tried to gather his shattered teammates in the end zone.

East Lake quarterback Derek Tate rested on one knee at midfield, the senior silently reveling as his teammates, and his school, celebrated around him.

One play - down by three, with 2:35 left, the Tornadoes went for it, but failed on a fake field goal - that's all it took to restore one team and destroy another.

East Lake's dramatic 21-18 win over Clearwater, combined with Pinellas Park's defeat of Palm Harbor U., makes the Eagles the improbable Class 5A, District 9 champions. The Tornadoes are runner-up.

After an 0-4 start, the Eagles have won four straight and second-year coach Bob Hudson's first district title. After a 3-1 start, the Tornadoes went 1-3 and let their title dreams slip away at East Lake Stadium.

"Our team is defined by heart," said Tate, who ran for 91 yards and completed 5-of-8 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. "It was an all-around effort for the biggest win I've ever had. We've never ... I can't explain it. ... There's no one word that can ... "

Clearwater's (4-4, 2-1) two-year title run and four-year mastery of East Lake (4-4, 2-1) ended on a play neither can explain.

Kicker Kyle Chilton hit a career-best 52-yard field goal in the first half, and late in the fourth quarter lined up for a 50-yarder to tie it for the Tornadoes. But after what appeared to be a good snap, quarterback Brice Lawrence rolled left and threw it - into the arms of freshman defender John Emanuele, who made a diving interception.

Why did Clearwater go for it?

"I don't know what happened with that," coach Tom Bostic said. "Obviously I wanted Chilton to kick the field goal."

Was East Lake expecting the fake? "Maybe," Hudson said. "At least on paper."

The Eagles jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on Geno Roefaro's 10-yard run and Bryan Bloomfield's 29-yard catch. After cutting the halftime lead to 14-10, the Tornadoes fumbled away the opening kickoff of the third, and Roefaro's 5-yard scoring run made it 21-10. Jabez Mitchem's 33-yard fourth-down touchdown catch and Harris' 2-point run cut the lead to three. Then a late East Lake fumble set up Clearwater's final, baffling drive.

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