CLEARWATER- Sometimes, the other team just completely outplays you and has a better game. That was the case for Nature Coast in its Class 5A, Region 3 semifinal matchup against Clearwater this past Friday night at Jack White Stadium. Facing what statistically is the Tampa Bay area’s top passing attack, the Sharks had their own pro cut-out for them at jump street. To actually stop the Tornadoes was a whole other story.
The Sharks fell behind by three scores early in the opening quarter and the Tornadoes were able to roll to a 40-14 victory. Clearwater will advance to the Class 5A, Region 3 final and face Sebring, who defeated Gibbs 29-0. Nature Coast’s season ends at 8-4, but the Sharks played a lot of sophomores and this group figures to be back in the fold this time next year.
“(Clearwater) are tall, long and very athletic,” Nature Coast Head Coach Cory Johns said. “And they are very big up front compared to us, but everyone we’ve played has pretty much been bigger than us so we are used to it. They played a better football game than we did, so they deserved to win. They are a very good football team.”
This displayed very early on, as Nature Coast forced Clearwater into a 3rd and 17 situation on the Tornadoes (11-1) first drive and they converted on a long pass from quarterback Aidan Maclean (11-of-16, 251 yards, 2 touchdowns) to wide receiver Censere Lee. That drive ended in a short Efrem Only (17 carries, 146 yards) touchdown run and things spiraled from there as Nature Coast could not find their footing on offense until the second half.
Nature Coast running back Christian Cromer had 1,900 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns heading into the contest, but Clearwater‘s front seven was up to the task of stopping him. Cromer rushed for 39 yards on 18 carries. Cromer did show his versatility having to play the quarterback position and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to fellow sophomore Carlos Rodriguez.
The Sharks (8-4) showed some fight in the second half down 33-0, as they narrowed the lead to 33-7 after the Cromer-to-Rodriguez touchdown pass and then recovered the ensuing onside kick. The recovery gave some life to Nature Coast with good field position, but the Sharks ended up turning over the ball on an Ethan Fahey interception. It was the last little bit of hope Nature Coast had in making it a game, as the Tornadoes regained control.
“This team and those seniors have had that in them since we’ve had them,” Johns added about his team’s resolve to fight back. “Most of them all have gone through the program and played on junior varsity, and that’s just who they are. They don’t give up and they just keep fighting.”
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.