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Bears savor 'huge' performance in crunch

By Times staff reports

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 17, 2001


T.J. Hedick had seen this before. One good half, one disaster.

Central's 16-point halftime lead looked like a memory (it was down to 23-15) with 26 seconds left in the third quarter and Drew Weatherford driving Land O'Lakes inside the Bears' 20.

But on second and 15 from the Central 19, Weatherford scrambled left under pressure from defensive end Aaron Gustin, threw across his body and into the chest of cornerback Jamie McElfresh, who grabbed his second of three interceptions.

The Bears' 30-15 win wasn't secure, though, until they played what Hedick called "Central Bear football." "We did the two things we needed to do," Central coach Steve Crognale said. "We scored, and we took time off the clock."

The Bears marched 80 yards, 62 of them by junior tailback Tim Gaynor, scored and -- more importantly -- erased half the fourth quarter.

The drive was "huge," Hedick said. "We knew as soon as we got the ball back we could drive the football.

"I was beginning to think we were pulling a Central High second half," he said, "but i'm telling you, the team played a full 48. We sustained that drive all the way down the field. We knew we had it in us."

Gaynor coverted two third downs, gaining 14 on a third-and-9 and 25 on a third-and-4, and eventually scored a 1-yard touchdown for a 30-15 lead. Tackle Willie Winslett was sensing the significance of the march before it even started.

"I said in the huddle, "Let's go on one of those 80-yard, six-minute drives, leave them five minutes, turn the ball over, and let's win this game' " Winslett said.

"We started with 12 minutes, and we gave it back with 6:19 left. We were sustaining the drive -- 3, 4 yards a carry -- and they couldn't stop it."

MAN DOWN: Springstead got one leader back but lost another in Friday's 29-3 win over Mitchell.

Linebacker Dan Raddish suffered a broken leg, taking much of the excitement out of offensive lineman/linebacker Jeff Hess' return from a knee injury.

Raddish injured the leg while making a tackle on the kickoff team. An ambulance took him to Oak Hill Hospital, where coaches and teammates visited him late Friday night.

"Dan's one of our biggest (sources of) inspiration," running back Steve Garofano said. "He plays with a lot of heart. When he went down, it was scary. But we also wanted to win for him, so it gave us some momentum as well."

"He's our main leader, and we just all pulled together and won it for him," wide receiver Jeff Hill said.

Coach Bill Vonada said Raddish will find new ways to rally his teammates.

"I'm confident that even though he's not going to be able to step on the field, he's going to be a leader for us," Vonada said. "He's a big part of the heart of this team and a big part of the character of our team."

IF AT FIRST: It was no surprise that Springstead came back to the same play -- a lob pass down the sideline -- minutes after a clipping penalty nullified Brian Bolcar's 81-yard touchdown pass to Hill.

The pass was open all night, as Bolcar and Hill proved by hooking up for a 47-yard score seven plays later.

What made the play so effective?

"With the corner up, it's just putting the move on him to get by him," said Hill, whose 6-foot-4 height doesn't hurt, either. "After that, just try to catch the ball before the safety gets there."

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Justin Melnik came within 6 yards of giving Springstead two backs with more than 100 yards rushing in the same game.

Garofano rushed for 119 yards and a 4-yard touchdown. Melnik finished with 94 yards, including a 5-yard score.

"It's probably been a little while since we had two," Vonada said. "But we knew coming in we wanted to mix it up a little bit and get the ball to a couple different people."

Defenses keyed on Garofano earlier in the season, opening up Springstead's passing game and allowing Melnik to rumble for 194 yards in a win over Citrus.

Garofano's teammates returned the favor against Mitchell.

"It's nice that some of the other guys' success forced defenders to not just concentrate on him," Vonada said. "He's definitely one of the most talented offensive players we have now. With the other guys stepping up, it's opening up for him as well."

SLOW START: Mitchell had its way with Springstead on its opening possession, driving 42 yards in 8 minutes, 21 seconds to take a 3-0 lead on Mike McDevitt's 30-yard field goal.

Springstead, meanwhile, was shooting itself in the foot, going three-and-out on its first possession and wiping out Matt Abbene's 42-yard kickoff return and Hill's apparent touchdown catch with penalties the next time it got the ball.

"That opening drive, (Mitchell) did a real good job," Vonada said. "We had a mistake on our opening drive, and I think it was a wake-up call. After that, I think we did a pretty good job."

HIS HIGHNESS: Hess and Abbene joined Homecoming King Dustin Aikens on Springstead's Homecoming Court.

According to his biography, Aikens was asked as a first-grader what he wanted to be when he grew up. "Comedian-doctor," he said, "so I can help people and make them laugh."

Hess and Abbene were named to the Senior Court. Mary Jo Dionn was voted Homecoming Queen.

-- BRANT JAMES, FRANK PASTOR

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