6A FOOTBALL: Clearwater’s run ends at Gaither

Clearwater coach Don Mesick speaks with his team after Friday's Class 6A region semifinal loss at Gaither.

COWBOYS 27 TORNADOES 20

TAMPA – Tony Bartalo threw for 395 yards and touchdowns to four different receivers as host Gaither held on to beat Clearwater, 27-20, and advance to the Class 6A region finals.

The Tornadoes struck first Friday night and led again early in the fourth quarter, but Gaither’s passing attack took over. Bartalo completed 7 of 8 fourth-quarter passes for 122 yards and the Cowboys flipped its 20-13 deficit to a 27-20 advantage on back-to-back possessions.

The game-winning touchdown came with less than two minutes. Facing third-and-goal from the Clearwater 8, Bartalo floated a high-arching fade to the left side of the end zone and junior Jordan Oladokun outjumped his defender.

Clearwater got the ball back with time and time outs to work with, but the Tornadoes couldn’t get passed midfield.

Friday’s victory allows top-seeded Gaither to host next week’s Class 6A Region 2 final against No. 3 Lake Minneola. The Rams went to No. 2 Largo and won 33-13. The Cowboys (11-1) reached this point in 2000 and 2011 but lost both region final opportunities.

No. 5 Clearwater (9-3) was attempting to win its first-ever region semifinal. No Tornadoes team has ever won more than a single game in any postseason appearance.

The night started strong when Clearwater found the end zone in just 1 minute and 23 seconds of game time. Senior quarterback Rent Montie hit senior playmaker Keedrik Murray for a 57-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the night’s third snap from scrimmage.

Clearwater got the ball right back at midfield when Bartalo fumbled away Gaither’s second snap on the ensuing possession, but seven Clearwater plays totaled just 11 yards and a squandered opportunity was punted away.

Gaither relied almost exclusive on the passing game Friday night, throwing 40 passes and rushing 15 times. The Cowboys netted just three yards on the ground, but Bartalo more than made up for that deficiency. The senior signal caller now has 39 touchdowns on the season and his 395 passing yards were a career high.

Joining Oladokun with touchdown receptions were Deveon Knighton, Jayden Mendez and Jeff Duclos. Sophomore Drelin Pittman didn’t cross the goal line but led all receivers with seven catches and 127 yards.

Clearwater and quarterback Rent Montie didn’t find quite as much success Friday. The senior completed 14 of 27 passes for 177 yards and the early touchdown. Murray caught one other pass on the night and totaled 61 yards, David James pulled in three receptions for 62 yards and Cardrece Mobley grabbed five for 34 yards.

Clearwater senior Marcus Jeter led all rushers with 15 carries for 76 yards. His 20-yard scoring blast up the middle in the third quarter capped an eight-play, 69-yard drive that tied the game at 13-13.

Neither team led by more than seven points all night and Clearwater snagged some late momentum when Kaiden Padgett picked off Bartalo at the Tornadoes 32. Clearwater’s drive rolled into the fourth quarter and was kickstarted by James. The sophomore hauled in a short pass on the sideline and turned it into a 44-yard gain to the Cowboys 21. Latrez Bradley got the Tornadoes to the 1 with an 18-yard run up the middle and Montie scored with a 1-yard quarterback sneak.

Both teams would have two more possessions. Gaither scored a pair of touchdowns and Clearwater couldn’t light the scoreboard.

SCORING:

CW - 6 – 0 – 7 – 7 --- 20

G - 0 – 6 – 7 – 14 --- 27

CW – Murray 56-yard pass from Monte. Kick failed – 1st Q (10:37)

G – Duclos 45-yard pass from Bartalo. Kick failed – 2nd Q (8:03)

G – Mendez 43-yard pass from Bartalo. Kick (Mintzer) – 3rd Q (10:11)

CW – Jeter 20-yard run. Kick (Ortega) – 3rd Q (6:01)

CW – Monte 1-yard run. Kick (Ortega) – 4th Q (10:46)

G – Knighton 3-yard pass from Bartalo. Kick (Mintzer) – 4th Q (6:21)

G – Oladokun 8-yard pass from Bartalo. Kick (Mintzer) – 4th Q (1:52)

TEAM STATS:

----------------------CW------- G

First Downs----------10---------15

Atts./Rush Yds.---29-122----15-3

Comp./Atts./Int.---14-27-1----25-40-2

Passing Yds.--------177-------395

Net Yards----------299-------432

Fumbles/Lost-------0-0-------3-1

Punts/Avg.---------5-33.2---4-37.5

Penalties----------8-61-------6-70

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS:

RUSHING

CW – Jeter (15-76, TD), Bradley (6-27).

G – Mendez (6-12).

PASSING

CW – Monte (14-27 for 177, TD, INT).

G – Bartalo (25-40 for 395, 4 TD, 2 INT).

RECEIVING

CW – Murray (2-61, TD), Mobley (5-34), James (3-62).

G – Pittman (7-127), Duclos (3-93, TD), Mendez (5-80, TD), Knighton (5-44, TD).

PINELLAS SCORES

CLASS 6A REGION 2 – No. 3 Lake Minneola 33 No. 2 Largo 13

CLASS 4A REGION 3 – No. 1 Lakewood 35 No. 5 Clewiston 0

CLASS 3A REGION 3 – No. 5 CCC 34 No. 1 Berkeley Prep 28 (3 OT)

CLASS 2A REGION 3 – No. 4 Admiral Farragut 24 No. 1 Cambridge Christian 13

CLASS 2A REGION 3 – No. 3 Seffner Christian 49 No. 2 Northside Christian 21

PASCO SCORES

CLASS 7A REGION 3 – No. 3 Bradenton Manatee 31 No. 2 Mitchell 28