FOOTBALL: Tampa Catholic gives Land O’ Lakes first loss

CRUSADERS 58 GATORS 21

LAND O’ LAKES — Two weeks ago, the Tampa Catholic Crusaders were a team coming off a 38-0 loss to Berkeley Prep and fell to 3-2 on the season.

During the next two weeks off, former Tampa Catholic/Jefferson/Chamberlain head coach Mike Fenton passed away, which was tough for current Crusaders head coach Jeris McIntyre, as Fenton was his coach in the late 1990s. On the very field McIntyre played his first game in 1997 under Fenton, the Crusaders were able to pick up a win against previously undefeated Land O’ Lakes.

Tampa Catholic got itself a huge night from running back Mario Mayo, who rushed for a game-high 216 yards and led the Crusaders to a 58-21 rout of Land O’ Lakes at Vicky King Field on Friday night. Land O’ Lakes dropped to 6-1 and Tampa Catholic improved to 4-2. It was an emotional win for McIntyre and the Crusaders, as Fenton still remained on the minds of those at the school.

“All the way around, I thought the kids played hard,” McIntyre said. “It was ironic playing here tonight because it was my first game, first touch, and also coach Mike Fenton’s first game at Tampa Catholic. It was really special to win here tonight and actually that game back then was 59-21 then and tonight 58-21.”

It didn’t take too long to realize the differences between the two squads, as the Crusaders had the edge in speed and size. Tampa Catholic quarterback Luke Sather (8 of 12 passing, 153 yards) played the role of managing the game while Mayo was the bell cow. Tampa Catholic raced out to a 24-0 lead before Land O’ Lakes answered with its first score.

Tampa Catholic’s defense heard and read a lot about the quarterback-wide receiver duo of Kyle Horvath and Keenan Ayala and made sure to neutralize the two. Horvath had an off-night when compared to his season statistics, finishing 10 of 25 passing for 124 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The picks were Horvath’s first of the year. Ayala recorded three catches for 64 yards.

The night belonged to the Crusaders, as they asserted themselves on the ground and through the air. Sather got big plays in the pass game with wide receiver Jaquise Alexander, who had multiple touchdown grabs on the night. The defense was headed up by Division I talent Corey Lucius Jr., who made some bone-jarring hits throughout the evening.

“My offensive line, fullback and everyone did a great job blocking tonight,” Mayo said. “All I had to do was run ahead straight, make one cut and go.”

Andy Villamarzo can be reached andyvillamarzo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.