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A fumble thwarts Venice's rally as Largo wins 42-30 and advances to the third round of playoffs for the first time.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published November 19, 2005
LARGO - Friday night in Largo's biggest game ever, Dexter McCluster had 204 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Leonard Johnson threw for three touchdowns and ran for another and Will Sever had two catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
But Daniel McFarland, who had no rushing yards and didn't catch a pass, might have saved the Packers' season.
His fumble recovery in the waning moments ended a Venice drive and resuscitated Largo's fans in a 42-30 victory in the Class 5A region semifinals.
As Venice, down 35-30, plowed through the Packers defense, all Largo coach Rick Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Matt Lepain could do was look at each other and shrug.
Rodriguez offered to burn his last timeout. Lepain declined, asking for one more play from his defense.
And there it was, a loose ball.
"I needed a miracle fumble," Rodriguez said. ""That was a miracle fumble."
It was the one big play the defense needed to send the Packers (10-2) into the third round of the playoffs for the first time. The 10 wins tie a school record set in 1977.
The Packers travel to Bradenton Manatee next week with a berth in the state semifinals on the line.
"Looks like no vacation for me," Rodriguez said.
Three plays after the fumble recovery, Johnson sprinted 40 yards to bury the Indians for good. It was Largo's sixth touchdown against a defense that last week shut out Fort Myers, the No. 3 team in the state, and each score went for 30 yards or more.
Largo had 359 yards of offense on its six scoring plays. (And McCluster had an 85-yard kick return called back.) On the other 29 plays, it had 98 yards.
McCluster opened the scoring with a 64-yard run, and his 33-yard catch with 22 seconds left in the first half gave Largo a 14-10 lead. After Sever turned a short pass into a 79-yard touchdown, McCluster broke free for an 80-yard run to fatten the Packer lead to 28-10.
But Venice (4-8) scored, recovered an onside kick and scored again. After the teams exchanged scores - Sever caught another short pass and ran the rest for a 63-yard touchdown - Largo was forced to punt with five minutes left and Venice took over on its 18.
The Indians converted two third downs, ran 13 plays and moved the ball 50 yards before Rodriguez got his "miracle." Venice racked up 424 yards of offense.
"This one," Indians coach Nick Coleman said, "is going to hurt for a long time."