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Largo can't quite rush to playoff victory

State star Noel Devine helps North Fort Myers put away the Packers.

By BOB PUTNAM
Published November 18, 2006


FORT MYERS - Largo and North Fort Myers offered the equivalent of two cyclists pedaling furiously downhill, two rafts bouncing wildly downstream, two teams that glared into each other's eyes, took 10 paces, whirled - and ran the football at each other.

All night long.

The host Red Knights were better equipped for the quick-hitting stuff. They had Noel Devine, the nation's top-rated running back. With spectacular bursts of speed and moves that are at times so unbelievable they belong in a video game, Devine left pursuers breathlessly behind.

For a while, his performance was matched by Largo's Brynn Harvey, a battering ram who splatters defenders.

Together, both backs combined for 509 yards and four touchdowns in a Class 5A region semifinal that saw a barrage of big plays and left both defenses wobbly.

In the end, it was Devine who shined brightest, rushing for 296 yards and three touchdowns to lead North Fort Myers to a 23-19 victory.

"He is the best back I've ever seen," Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said.

Early on, it was the Packers who had more success running the ball. Taking advantage of its size on the offensive line, Largo (10-2) gave the ball to Harvey, who ripped off a 41-yard run on the Packers' first drive to set up Leonard Johnson's 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper. The extra point failed.

Then, Devine went to work.

On a sweep, Devine shook a few defenders, beat them to the corner and sprinted down the sideline toward the end zone on a 71-yard touchdown run.

Harvey, though, was not finished. He had a 53-yard run on a drive that was capped off by Kim Howard's 8-yard touchdown run to put Largo ahead 13-7 at the half.

After a bobbled snap on a punt resulted in a safety, the Packers recovered the ensuing kick and Harvey responded with his only score, a 46-yard burst up the middle that made it 19-9.

But Devine stole the show on some open-field runs that had a familiar feel. There was the quick first step. The onrush of opponents. The cutback, the spin move and the finishing speed.

With a few big plays that led to first downs, Devine eventually put the Red Knights (11-1) ahead with touchdown runs of 1 and 3 yards in the fourth quarter.

Devine also had two fumbles in the final five minutes that gave Largo hope. But the Packers were stopped on downs twice.

"Our kids played their hearts out, and we stopped Devine a few times," Rodriguez said. "Brynn played well, too. It was just a tough loss."