By Times staff writers and correspondents
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000
Gaither 33, Spanish River 3
TAMPA -- Spanish River did everything it could to keep Gaither at bay during its Class 6A regional quarterfinal game Friday night.
Blitzing linebackers helped shut down Cowboys star running back Lydell Ross at the outset. Fake punts helped the Sharks keep control of the ball on offense and an early field goal gave Spanish River the lead.
The things the Sharks couldn't overcome were mistakes and Gaither's ability to capitalize on them.
Three interceptions, two sacks and 10 incomplete passes later, Gaither advanced to the regional semifinals with a 33-3 victory. The Cowboys (10-1) will host Delray Beach Atlantic next week, 49-28 winners over Vero Beach.
"They took a lot of things away from us," Spanish River coach Bill Bretherick said. "As good as everybody says their offense is, their defense is twice as good. Our biggest problem tonight was we could not score any points and they had too many opportunities."
Many of those opportunities came courtesy of Spanish River mistakes.
After stopping the Cowboys on fourth down with less than two minutes to go in the first half and trailing 14-3, Sharks quarterback Chris Caesar threw his first interception on the first play from scrimmage. Gaither's Philip Beauchamp connected with James Streeter for a 47-yard touchdown on the next play and the Cowboys went into the locker room with a 20-3 advantage.
Spanish River (5-6) then failed to score on its first possession of the second half. It was a possession that featured two fake punts -- one of which was successful -- and took nearly four minutes off the clock.
Gaither responded by marching 53 yards down the field before Ross scampered in from 12 yards out to put the Cowboys up 27-3. Two of the Sharks' five first downs came on fake punts.
Ross finished the night with 199 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries to pass former Robinson running back Zain Gilmore as the county's single-season rushing leader with 2,349 yards.
Gaither began taking control of the game in the second quarter.
Sensing that the Sharks were tiring on defense, Cowboys coach Howie DeCristofaro elected to keep his offense on the field as much as possible.
Gaither held the ball for eight minutes and five seconds in that second quarter, running the ball 14 times and scoring twice.
"They were dead in the second quarter," DeCristofaro said. "The defense was all bent over, breathing heavy after every play. I figured we'd just keep pounding. If we kept pounding we'd be okay. I know if we're close at the half we've got a good chance to win."
-- MIKE READLING
TAMPA -- Jefferson's football field is close enough to the airport that the noise from planes is enough to turn heads away from the game.
From the start of Friday night's first-round playoff game, it didn't take an air traffic controller to figure out which team was taking off and which team simply was hoping to land safely.
Senior tailback Robert Wax went 61 yards on Jefferson's opening play and the Dragons never looked back, humbling Central with a 35-3 victory.
"We told them we couldn't tackle at the ankles, and by God, we did," Bears coach Steve Crognale said.
"We dove for his feet, and we tried to talk to them all week about tackling up high, but it didn't work out," he said.
Central (7-4) saw its season abruptly end at a familiar obstacle. The Bears have advanced to the playoffs four times in Crognale's six years, but have been badly beaten in the opening round each season.
"We had our goals, and one goal was to get to the state playoffs, and I told them before the game, "We're here. That's what's good about this,' " Crognale said.
"Unfortunately, for the program, it didn't turn out the way we wanted it. I feel there were some people around that thought it would be worse. I'd say we gave them a fight."
Central responded to Jefferson's first score with a drive of its own. Bobby Batista put the Bears on the board with a 30-yard field goal with 4:52 left in the first.
Central didn't get its next first down until the third quarter, when Jefferson was up 21-3.
The Bears moved the ball in the second half, but were doomed by four turnovers inside the Jefferson 30. David Egan had two passes intercepted in the end zone by D.J. Mey. Jerry Daniels had a 59-yard touchdown run negated by a holding penalty, but he led Central with 83 yards on 14 carries.
Wax finished with two touchdowns and a career-best 195 yards on 16 carries. Matt Glavich threw for three touchdowns and 174 yards.
Jefferson (10-1) hardly let up on Central, throwing deep on first down with a 32-point lead and five minutes to play.
The Dragons went deep again on third down, then attempted a fake punt from their 31, only to see the pass fall incomplete.
Jefferson advances to face Titusville Astronaut in a rematch of last year's regional final, which Astronaut won.
The War Eagles advanced Friday with a 57-0 win over Hernando.
TAMPA -- The Charlotte Tarpons would have been real dangerous if they had a strong defense.
But they don't.
In Friday's Class 5A, first-round playoff game against Hillsborough, the Tarpons gave up 423 yards and lost 45-27.
The annoying thing to Hillsborough was that Charlotte's offense was dangerous, keeping the score just close enough midway through the third quarter to make things interesting.
"Every time we got up a little, it seemed like they would score, and then they just kept hanging around," Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. "Hey, they have one of the best offenses in the state. We got tested tonight."
When Hillsborough (11-0) went up 17-0, the Tarpons quickly drove for a touchdown. When Hillsborough jumped ahead 24-7, Charlotte (7-4) answered within two minutes with another touchdown.
In one five-minute stretch in the third quarter, each team scored two touchdowns.
"But we could never cut the score to any less than 10 points," Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop said. "We couldn't get the score when we needed it, and we couldn't stop them when we needed to. We just couldn't do it."
On three occasions, Charlotte was stopped on downs after driving inside Hillsborough's 30-yard line. Hillsborough, on the other hand, never punted. And besides missing a 39-yard field goal and getting stopped once on downs, the Terriers had their way.
"All I heard about was how good Charlotte's offense was, scoring 374 points this season," Garcia said. "But hey, our offense scored 373 points this season. But I didn't hear a word about that. Well, we scored our share tonight."
Ronnie McCullough led the Terriers with three touchdowns on runs of 2, 6, and 19 yards. Sidney Moore added two more touchdowns, an 80-yard kickoff return to start the game and a 27-yard reception. And Keith Williams, who led all rushers with with 127 yards on nine carries, had one score on a 76-yard sprint.
Hillsborough hosts Bradenton Manatee on Friday in a region semifinal. "Hillsborough has a real good football team, no doubt about that," Waldrop said. "They have lots of talent, and I'd give them as much of a chance as anybody to go a long way in the playoffs."
-- SCOTT PURKS
SEMINOLE -- The third quarter of Friday's Class 4A first-round playoff game between East Bay and Seminole had a total of one (non-descript) first down and zero turnovers.
Without a doubt, however, it contained the game's pivotal play.
With Seminole trailing 6-3 and both defenses in command with 4:03 to go in the quarter, the Warhawks' Marvin Elliott burst around right end to smother an East Bay punt attempt. Elliott then calmly ran toward the sideline, where the ball lay at the Indians' 6-yard line, scooped it up and scored, lifting Seminole to an 18-6 win.
In the process, the Warhawks earned the first playoff victory of coach Sam Roper's 16-year tenure and the school's first since the 1970s.
"I was real close the first couple times they punted. The third time was the charm," said Elliott, a senior who has blocked several placekicks this year but no punts until Friday. "Then I was like, "Oh, there's nobody around. It's mine. Touchdown.'"
The dream season continues for unbeaten, No. 5-ranked Seminole (11-0), which will host King (8-3), a 10-7 winner over Auburndale, Friday night in the second round.
"These kids, they don't ever get rattled," Roper said. "I get rattled, the coaches get rattled, but these kids, they help us keep our composure."
On its first possession of the game, Seminole drove to the East Bay 9 before backing up and settling for a 32-yard field goal by Morgan Riley and a 3-0 lead.
East Bay answered on its second possession. Ultra-quick quarterback Bruce Youmans (14 carries, 108 yards) slipped around left end and outraced the defense down the sideline for a 77-yard score. Seminole blocked the extra point to make it 6-3.
Per custom, both teams stuck to the ground. Seminole spread it around, using eight ball carriers in the first quarter alone. Fullback Eric Hunter (16 carries, 65 yards) and quarterback D'Qwell Jackson (10-40) did the most work.
While the Seminole offense was sputtering in the second and third quarters, its defense was clamping down on Youmans and East Bay's option attack, limiting the Indians to 35 yards on 14 carries in the second half.
"We studied film three times a day," said Jackson, a linebacker on defense. "That man (Youmans), we had to prepare for him."
With the lead after the blocked punt, Seminole then got its offense on track, grinding out a 43-yard, 10-play, drive capped by a 5-yard run by Hunter to go up 18-6 early in the fourth quarter.
East Bay was unequipped to rally from behind, and Seminole sealed the win with 5:40 remaining on a dangerous fake punt. Jackson, who also is the punter, saw Elliott split right and all alone, and he threw to him for 16 yards on fourth and 13.
"It was just destiny for us," Jackson said. "It's time for Seminole High."
-- PETE YOUNG
TAMPA -- Jesuit coach Dominick Ciao said his team needed to control the tempo of the game if it wanted to beat the quick-scoring Seabreeze.
So the Tigers kept it on the ground, attempting only two passes in beating the Sand Crabs.
The Tigers (10-1) rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns, while their defense held the Sand Crabs (4-7) to 219 total yards.
The only points Seabreeze managed came on Jonathan Miller's 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
PLAY OF THE GAME: With less than two minutes to go in the first half, Seabreeze marched 41 yards down the field. Seabreeze quarterback Robby Cloar tried to throw downfield, but Eric Conway intercepted the ball with 26 seconds left to stop the Sand Crabs' drive.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Jesuit fullback A.J. Schneider rushed for 53 yards and two touchdowns. His partner in the backfield, Aaron Fryer, had one touchdown and 97 rushing yards. For Seabreeze, Kenny Scott had 120 yards on 19 carries.
KEY STATISTIC: Seabreeze had three turnovers and nine penalties for 91 yards, including two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
THEY SAID IT: "We needed to have the perfect game to beat an explosive team like Seabreeze. I told the team we could not have any turnovers and we had to limit our penalties. We did that." -- Ciao.
-- ROBYN DISNEY
TAMPA -- In a battle of first-time state playoff teams, Riverview (8-3) got revenge for an earlier 14-13 loss against Tampa Bay Tech (5-6) with a convincing win. But it was a costly one.
Riverview will be without the services of Avious Steadman when it faces highly touted Bradenton Southeast next week. Steadman, the county's second-leading rusher, went out with an apparent broken clavicle early in the third quarter after gaining nearly 100 yards in the first half.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Steadman's second-quarter touchdown was the essence of the Riverview power running game. One play after fullback Charlie Ross carried the ball 57 yards down to the Titans' 12-yard line, Steadman bulled his way through the middle, dragging two defenders into the end zone.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME: The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Ross was unstoppable, gaining 173 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, most of them coming up the middle.
KEY STATISTIC: In Riverview's earlier loss to the Titans, it used a 4-3 alignment on defense. Soon after that, the Sharks changed to a 5-0 alignment and have won eight of nine games since. On Friday, they held the Titans to 192 total yards and forced four turnovers.
THEY SAID IT: "(The Sharks) have gotten a lot better than we have this year, playing against tougher competition. But we have a great junior class coming back, and we're going to work hard to increase our strength and speed over the off-season. We are looking forward to next year." -- Tech coach John Colbert said.
-- JEREMY RASMUSSEN
CRYSTAL RIVER -- The final score indicates a blowout, but the fact remains that Friday's Class 3A first-round playoff game at Crystal River boiled down to one factor -- experience.
Crystal River had four years of playoff experience. Blake had none.
As a result, the Pirates (10-1) will gain a little more after a 31-0 win that advances them into the second round for the second consecutive year. Crystal River will host Jesuit, a 29-3 winner over Daytona Beach Seabreeze Friday in the Region 2 semifinals.
"I don't feel we came mentally prepared to play," Yellow Jackets coach Clarence Higdon said. "This is our first time (in the playoffs), and our kids were just excited to be here. (Crystal River) is a team that is returning to the playoffs, and it showed tonight. The timing and everything was off tonight, and it just hurt us."
The Pirates played without leading rusher Nate Madison, who quit the team earlier in the week, but the transition was almost seamless thanks to the performances of running backs Ryan McNally and Chianta Smith and quarterback Clayton Trenary, who helped the Pirates build a 17-0 halftime lead. Smith and Trenary led Crystal River to its first score on its second possession with Smith carrying the ball three times for 29 yards, including a 19-yard jaunt off the left side for Crystal River's first touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets (6-5) marched to the Crystal River 30-yard line on the ensuing possession but fell short when Cory Street's 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
After that, it was all Crystal River. Sparked by a 55-yard run from McNally, the Pirates marched to the Blake 10 on the next possession and took a 10-0 lead when kicker Will Bleakley converted on a 27-yard field goal.
Crystal River forced the Yellow Jackets to punt on the next possession and got a break when punter Collin Benyo's knee hit the ground while trying to handle a bad snap, giving the Pirates the ball at the Blake 36-yard line.
It took Crystal River just seven plays to add a second touchdown and take a 17-0 lead after an 8-yard scoring run from McNally.
"It's a great win," said Crystal River coach Jere DeFoor, who picked up his first playoff win. "The kids didn't want this to be the last game. (McNally) played great, and Chianta had a great first half, too."
Injured late in the first half, Smith didn't play in the second, yet it didn't matter. Crystal River all but put the game away on the opening drive of the second half, marching 54 yards in 13 plays and consuming 6:47 off the clock before John Wang put the Pirates ahead 24-0 on a 2-yard scoring run.
-- CAREY FREEMAN
SARASOTA -- Regular-season losses to Haines City and Lake Wales forced the Armwood Hawks to embark on a playoff run on the road. That road will not be leading home for at least another week.
The Hawks received a strong defensive performance and took advantage of a first-half mistake to defeat Sarasota Booker at Tornado Alley Stadium.
The Hawks got their break when the Tornadoes were called for roughing the punter late in the second quarter, giving Armwood new life and the ball on the Booker 43-yard line.
Ron Buskey threw a 20-yard pass to Chris Murray and two plays later connected with Leonard Anderson for a 26-yard touchdown.
The Hawks used a trick play to get a two-point conversion and took an 8-0 lead into the locker room.
On its first possession of the second half, Armwood scored on a 63-yard drive capped by an 11-yard fade pass in the end zone from Buskey to Anderson for a 14-0 lead.
Next up for the Hawks is Haines City, a team that is responsible for one of their two losses this season.
PLAY OF THE GAME: With neither team moving the ball, the roughing the punter penalty on Booker helped jump-start the Armwood offense.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Anderson caught two touchdown passes from Buskey and the Armwood defense did not allow Booker to get on the scoreboard, yielding only two long pass plays that the Tornadoes were unable to capitalize on.
KEY STATISTIC: Two and zero. The number of times Booker got inside the Armwood 10-yard line and the number of points it scored, respectively.
THEY SAID IT: "That drive was one of the best things I have ever been a part of." -- Armwood coach Sean Callahan on a 96-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
-- BILL BLITMAN
King held Auburndale to a season-low 83 yards on the ground and then showed the Bloodhounds the quickest way out of the Class 4A regional playoffs with a victory.
King now travels to Seminole, which defeated East Bay, for Friday's region semifinal.
The Bloodhounds (7-4) entered with 29 rushing touchdowns and were averaging 238 yards per game on the ground. King stacked the line with eight men in the box, forcing the Bloodhounds to throw for most of the night.
"I would have bet you a million bucks that they could not come in here and shut us down like that," Auburndale coach Kenny Harrison said.
King jumped out to a 3-0 lead when Lonnie Houston kicked a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter, but Auburndale jumped back out front 7-3 on a James Altbiel 35-yard reception with less than five minutes to go in the game.
The Lions (8-3) answered with 1:35 to go when Raymond Neal scored from 35 yards out to put King on top for good.
"I was sure we had won the game when we scored there at the end, but you have to give them credit for making the big play," Harrison said.
-- TIMES STAFF
LAKELAND -- Friday night was a perfect example of a team with nothing to lose playing a team with everything to lose and almost pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the season.
Chamberlain traveled to top-ranked Lakeland, which is also ranked 10th in the nation, only to lose its Class 5A region quarterfinal 10-0.
The win gave Lakeland coach Bill Castle his 225th career victory and kept the Dreadnaughts alive for their regional semifinal game next week against Venice.
"The bottom line is we're moving on," Castle said. "The thing that got us through was our defense. We didn't do anything on offense."
Offensively, the Dreadnaughts (11-0) amassed 143 total yards, 54 of them through the air. Typically an offensive machine, Lakeland punted the ball seven times. Chamberlain, however, didn't do much better.
The Chiefs (7-4) finished the night with 110 total yards, including 77 passing yards, and earned four more first downs than the Dreadnaughts, but it wasn't enough to overcome a 7-0 halftime deficit.
"We played a great game on defense," Chamberlain coach Billy Turner said. "Lakeland has a great program and I'm proud of our football team."
-- DURWARD BUCK
BRADENTON -- When Largo coach Rick Rodriguez watched films of Bradenton Southeast this week, he saw speed on offense and size on defense.
When he saw the Seminoles in person Friday night, Rodriguez was even more impressed.
There was Southeast quarterback Adrian McPherson, who rushed for 153 yards and threw four touchdown passes. There was receiver Jawarski Pollock, who caught three touchdown passes and returned a punt 67 yards that led to another touchdown.
There simply was too much talent as the Seminoles rolled to a 42-0 win over the Packers in a Class 4A, Region 3 quarterfinal game.
Southeast scored all of its points in the first half, and Rodriguez agreed to use a continuously running clock in the second half.
The Seminoles (8-3) amassed 405 yards of total offense compared to 100 for Largo (7-4).
"They have so much talent," Rodriguez said. "Omar (Lawrence) is our best guy, and they've got about 10 of those. They have so much speed. Their quarterback is the best I've seen in 23 years coaching."
The scoring started quickly and rarely stopped. On their first possession, the Seminoles mounted a nine-play drive highlighted by two scrambles from McPherson and capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Pollock in the corner of the end zone.
Largo punted to Pollock after a stalled first possession, and he returned it 67 yards to the 5. Torrence Washington scored on the next play, and five minutes into the game it was 14-0. Then came two more touchdown passes by McPherson. At the end of the first quarter it was 27-0.
Largo quarterback Marcus Paschal spent most of the first half running for his life. The Packers had only two first downs in the half and crossed midfield once. Paschal had 25 yards rushing on eight carries and threw for 22 yards. Lawrence had 32 yards on three carries, including 29 yards on a fake punt.
-- RODNEY PAGE