TAMPA — After a tough 13-9 loss to Jesuit to close the regular season, Tampa Catholic coach Mike Gregory said he saw a change in his players just 12 hours later as they watched film. Always an emotional game, Gregory said he knew his players would be disappointed dropping the rivalry game to the Tigers. What the coach did not know was how they would react, but he quickly found out the resiliency of his Tampa Catholic (10-2) team as it got back to what he calls the team’s “blue collar” ways.
Winning eight straight prior to the tilt with Jesuit, Gregory said he wasn’t sure if his team was a little overconfident, but the loss served to spark the Crusaders, who have dominated in two playoff wins, including Friday’s 45-10 victory against Melbourne Central Catholic.
“I think the Jesuit game was a little piece of humble pie and after eight wins in a row you lose a little bit of that blue-collar mentality,” Gregory said. “I think Jesuit made us refocus and we have guys ready to put the work in, not only day-in-day-out on the field, but also I have guys coming up to me at school on Monday’s saying, ‘Hey coach, did you see this?’ ”
“And that’s special. They are excited about it and they know the kind of preparation it takes to get back to success.”
The Crusaders’ defense continued to impress Friday — Tampa Catholic is allowing a little more than 10 points a game this season. The defense got big lifts from senior Tre Watson, who had eight tackles while adding an interception and long return to set up a score. Junior Cody Endris had 10 tackles, senior TJ Koontz had eight tackles, TJ Harrell scored twice on offense also had an interception return for a score, and freshman Bentlee Sanders and Devan Barrett also had picks.
The offense had a pair of touchdowns each from Harrell (rushing) and senior Justin Motlow (receiving), but also continued to get consistent play from senior quarterback Kyle Ploucher, who eclipsed 2,000 passing yards this season. Ploucher hit Motlow seven times for 145 of the quarterback’s 218 yards, and he also connected on a touchdown strike to Trajan Herr.
“Kyle has been big for us all year,” Gregory said. “He’s stepped up in situations where we’ve needed him and he’s been a rock for us all year.”
Dads Stadium magic
Against all odds in the final minutes of Friday’s Class 8A-Region 2 semifinal, Plant pulled out another victory — 24-23 against Dr. Phillips in overtime — and added more mystique to the power of Dads Stadium.
Consider this: Since 2005, Plant’s homefield playoff record is 21-0.
Plant coach Robert Weiner said he believes Dads Stadium gives his Panthers about a touchdown advantage over visitors for several reasons: The blaring band, the fans, the closeness of the stands to the field and the stands’ metal overhang, which amplifies the sound.
On Friday, the band blared throughout the wild game even though they had to get up at 5 a.m. for a competition on Saturday.
Weiner said he was so appreciative of the band’s effort that he bought them 20 dozen doughnuts before they left for the competition.
“There is no question that the band contributed to the victory,” Weiner said. “All that noise gets us fired up.”
This Friday, Plant, a winner of four state titles in the previous seven seasons, travels to Fort Pierce Central, which defeated Bradenton Manatee.
If Plant (10-1-1) defeats Central (11-1), then it might play at home the following week, depending on how the brackets shake out.
Quarterbacks gave both coaches headaches
Entering the Class 6A-Region 2 semifinal between Armwood and Jefferson, both head coaches knew that in order to pull out a win, the defense would have to limit the opposing quarterback.
Each defense forced the quarterbacks into making bad decisions and capitalized off their mistakes. But somehow, it didn’t matter.
Armwood’s Noah Johnson, whose two turnovers (fumble and interception) led to Jefferson touchdowns, still led his team to victory with 192 rushing yards and two touchdowns to go with 208 passing yards and a touchdown.
“We put the pressure on them where he had to make plays and their quarterback was amazing. We tried everything and we couldn’t stop him. We couldn’t find an answer for him. We threw everything at him and a kitchen sink” Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle said.
Meanwhile, Jefferson quarterback Deiondre Porter went 23 of 39 for 377 yards with four touchdowns along with a rushing touchdown. He also lost two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns and threw an interception.
“He had some unbelievable passes that were caught. They were just unbelievable. You say maybe one or two but there may have been a dozen,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said.
McCloud’s impact more than numbers show
A difference-maker sometimes transcends the stat line.
That was certainly the case for Sickles running back Ray Ray McCloud III as the junior led the way for the Gryphons’ second playoff win, this one against East Bay, 27-0.
McCloud’s line wasn’t unimpressive — 145 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns. However, it did mark just the second time this season he’d been held to less than 150 yards in a game and more than half of those yards came on a 73-yard run in the first quarter.
“He only had 145 (yards)?” Gryphons coach Brian Turner said after the game. “I thought he had more than that — seemed like he had more than that, but the defense of theirs did a good job at some parts.”
Sickles (11-1) quarterback Isaac Holder, the only other Gryphons player to attempt a rush, ran for 42 yards and completed seven passes for 96 yards as Turner said his team is focused on continuing to show it has other offensive weapons.
“I think teams know we’re going to give it to Ray, which we will, but we’re trying to spread the ball around and get it into other people’s hands,” Turner said.
McCloud ran for his first two touchdowns in the opening half, giving the Gryphons all they needed with a 17-0 halftime lead.
“This was a good win for us because going into halftime at 17-0, we knew we just had to slow the game down and let the win come to us,” McCloud said. “We did that and walked away with a W.”
McCloud deflected the attention away from his three-touchdown night, which pushed him to 2,260 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns on the season, and focused on the other side of the ball as the Gryphons’ defense posted its second shutout of the year.
“I did my job, but the defense did great doing their job,” McCloud said. “It’s always good when you get a shutout.”
Patrick Brooks, Plant — The running back tallied 104 yards and scored a touchdown in overtime before Plant’s defense stopped Dr. Phillips on a two-point conversion to win 24-23.
Byron Cowart, Armwood — The defensive end had two fumble returns for touchdowns and also collected two sacks in a 52-48 win against Jefferson.
TJ Harrell, Tampa Catholic — The senior made the most of his four carries by scoring a pair of touchdowns in a 45-10 win over Melbourne Central Catholic. He added four tackles, a pass deflection and an interception for a score.
Derrick Ingram, Jefferson — The senior wide receiver made the most of his three catches in Friday’s loss, tallying 77 yards and scoring on each reception. Engram finished the season 10 TD catches.
Justin Motlow, Tampa Catholic — The 5-foot-10, 185-pound receiver was the main target for Crusaders’ QB Kyle Ploucher, catching seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Motlow has 994 yards on the season and 10 TDs.
Correspondent Mike Camunas contributed to this report.