TAMPA - Tampa Catholic had little trouble shutting down Clewiston's much-heralded offense that averaged 32.4 points a game coming into Friday's Class 2A, Region 3 final.
However, a number of mistakes by the Crusaders, particularly a late second-quarter fumble, opened the door for Clewiston, which took advantage and held on for the win and a spot in the state semifinal.
The fumble, which occurred with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left in the half and Tampa Catholic (9-3) driving to Clewiston's 20-yard line, gave the Tigers one more chance to score in the half.
Clewiston (12-0), ranked No. 2, promptly took advantage, driving five plays and 84 yards in a little over two minutes, culminating in Jared Combass' 31-yard touchdown throw to John Melton down the right sideline for a 7-7 tie going into the half.
"We had a chance to go up 14-0 right before the half or at the very least 10-0," Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez said. "We had them on their heels, and that gave them some life. ... That was a big difference going in 7-7 at the half."
Clewiston kept its momentum in the second half. Tigers running back Darris Hughes, who was limited to just 33 yards in the first half, had runs of 23, 11 and 13 yards on the Tigers' opening drive to set up a Will Davis 37-yard field goal. That field goal would prove to be the difference in the game as Tampa Catholic, which had two turnovers total, struggled to establish a running game - it was limited to just 39 yards on the ground - and gained just 37 yards of offense in the second half.
"We expected to win the football game," Henriquez said. "We had our chances. Bottom line is to win in the playoffs, you have to stop the run and you have to run the football. We didn't run it quite as well as we wanted to (on Friday night)."
Tampa Catholic scored its only touchdown on the third play of the second quarter when quarterback Dickie de Lama found Eric Gerken, who finished with five catches for 95 yards, on a 50-yard touchdown pass.