tampabay.com

Largo's McCluster becomes the county's all-time leading rusher.

By BOB PUTNAM
Published November 4, 2005


LARGO - "Hey, man," a Largo assistant confided to players on the sideline. "Dexter still needs 6 yards."

On the next play, with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter, Dexter McCluster took a pitch and raced past Osceola defenders and into the record books.

With his seventh touchdown of the night, an 8-yard run, McCluster, a senior with the Packers, triumphantly closed out his regular season by becoming the first player in Pinellas County to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

The announcers who were keeping tabs told everyone of his accomplishment over the loudspeakers as players stormed the field and fans rose to applaud.

After that, McCluster's night was done.

He finished the regular season with 2,002 yards and scored 32 touchdowns, also believed to be a county record.

"Everyone kept telling me what I needed to get, so I knew I was close," McCluster said. "It was a great feeling to reach the end zone and know that I did something no one has ever done before."

Though the players dutifully cheered McCluster, there was little pizzazz in the celebration. It was obvious Largo was looking beyond this achievement to others just ahead.

Thursday's game, which the Packers won 56-13, had no bearing on district titles or playoff berths. Largo (8-2) already had clinched the Class 5A, District 10 title and needed to ensure McCluster was healthy for next week's region quarterfinal against Dunedin.

That had Packers coach Rick Rodriguez worried. He has been careful to take McCluster out of lopsided games. Four times this season McCluster has not played in the fourth quarter.

But with the chance to chase history, Rodriguez said earlier this week he would let his record-breaking back run. Rodriguez just wanted it to happen quickly.

Trouble was, the Warriors (2-8) kept turning the ball over in their own territory, giving McCluster a short field to run.

And McCluster didn't have many of his characteristic long-gainers.

Of his 27 carries, only two gained more than 20 yards. One of those was a magnificent run in which he encountered a roadblock before darting around the left corner for a 58-yard touchdown. He finished with 224 yards.

"Dexter is special," Osceola coach George Palmer said. "I had no problem with Largo giving the ball to him to get 2,000 yards. I'd give it to him every play. It's really quite amazing what he was able to do."