EAGLES 34 TORNADOES 12
CLEARWATER – It was the final week of the high school regular season Friday but it might as well have been a playoff game for Clearwater and East Lake.
Both teams entered the night on the cusp of the postseason and potentially needing a victory to have a shot at being one of the top eight teams in their respective regions.
Led by a defensive front that produced five sacks and dominated the trenches, East Lake struck first and never trailed, winning 34-12.
“Those guys work their butts off every day and they came out excited and executed,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said of his defensive line. Two of the five quarterback takedowns also resulted in strip sacks. “They’re coached well, listen to their coaches and do what they’re supposed to do.”
The result left both teams at 6-4 overall. They’ll now play the waiting game to see where their power ranking averages place them.
“My butterflies are not going to go away, but we all are hoping we’ll make it,” said East Lake senior Micah Abraham.
Abraham made his presence felt all over the field Friday night. The defensive back/receiver/return man helped set up the Eagles’ second touchdown of the game by ripping off a 58-yard punt return to the Clearwater 13. Two James McDuffy runs later and East Lake was in the end zone and up 14-0 with 42 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“He’s electrifying,” Hudson said of Abraham. “He works extremely hard and got himself in shape as the year went on so we could use him more and more on offense as well as defense and special teams.”
After dominating the first half and taking a 21-0 lead into the locker room, East Lake found itself back in a ballgame when Clearwater found some success on both sides of ball.
Late in the third quarter, the Tornadoes forced East Lake to punt from its own 1-yard line and took over at the Eagles 27. Quarterback Rent Montie hit Keedrik Murray for a 23-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage and Latrez Bradley powered through the middle for a 4-yard touchdown on the next snap.
Clearwater forced a three-and-out on East Lake’s next possession and struck again three plays later. Montie went to Murray again with a short pass and the speedy junior broke a tackle, found the edge and took off for a 68-yard score.
Murray turned in another huge evening, catching nine passes for 144 yards and adding another 30 yards on the ground.
The big play cut East Lake’s lead to 21-12 with 47 seconds left in the third, but that’s as close as Clearwater would get.
The Eagles and Abraham struck again 10 seconds into the fourth.
“It was a bubble and I was supposed to fake block and then go,” Abraham said of what was a 56-yard touchdown reception from Matt Trotto. “I just came off the line and kind of relaxed and he jumped the bubble and I took off, so it was an easy touchdown.”
Clearwater twice got inside East Lake territory after falling behind 28-12 but never closer than the Eagles 30. East Lake sealed the win with senior Charles Tolson’s 25-yard touchdown run up the middle.
The Eagles rushed for 149 yards and four touchdowns, with McDuffy scoring twice and Tolson and Isaac Gibbs (19 carries for 80 yards) each scoring once.
Trotto bounced back well from getting his first pass of the night picked off. He finished 9 of 15 for 145 yards and the touchdown to Abraham.
“I can’t say enough about his development and his progression learning the offense, learning the coverages, learning when to throw it away or take the sack when you have to,” Hudson said of Trotto. “He’s done a tremendous job.”
Despite the loss, Clearwater still has a chance to play beyond this week. The Tornadoes began Friday in a three-way tie atop the Class 6A District 9 standings with Largo and Boca Ciega. The district champion will be decided by who has the higher point average. Largo entered at 39.22, followed by Clearwater at 37.78 and Boca Ciega at 37.30.
Boca Ciega didn’t play Friday and Largo lost to Lakewood. Since Lakewood finished 5-5, that means Largo’s loss counts for 28 points and Clearwater’s loss counts for 33. Had the season ended prior to Friday night, Clearwater would have advanced as the No. 8 seed in Class 6A Region 3.
EL - 14 – 7 – 0 – 13 --- 34
CW - 0 – 0 – 12 – 0 --- 12
EL – Gibbs 21-yard run. Kick (Kervin) – 1st Q (3:20)
EL – McDuffy 4-yard run. Kick (Kervin) – 1st Q (0:42)
EL – McDuffy 1-yard run. Kick (Kervin) – 2nd Q (1:53)
CW – Bradley 4-yard run. Kick failed – 3rd Q (3:30)
CW – Murray 68-yard pass from Montie. 2 pt. fail – 3rd Q (0:47)
EL – Abraham 56-yard pass from Trotto. Kick (Kervin) – 4th Q (11:50)
EL – Tolson 25-yard run. Kick failed – 4th Q (0:45)
EL – Gibbs (19-80, TD), McDuffy (5-29, 2 TD), Tolson (3-32, TD).
CW – Murray (5-30), Perry (8-28), Bradley (3-3, TD).
EL – Trotto (9-15 for 145, TD, INT).
CW – Montie (20-33 for 203, TD).
EL – Williams (5-55), Abraham (1-56, TD).
CW – Murray (9-144, TD), Marq. Jeter (3-16), Mason (1-11).