Watching Fort Pierce Central warm up Monday night at Cane Field was, no doubt, what David saw when he gazed out and saw Goliath coming. The Class 8A Cobras dressed 70 athletes, about 10 of them college Division I commits or serious prospects, and Clewiston only 31 players. The disparity in size was readily apparent, even when the teams were doing their pre-game drills at opposite ends of the field.
Setting all that aside, the Tigers came out and played hard-nosed football and made a contest of it but still coming up a touchdown short.
Clewiston won the coin toss and Tyrin Summers returned the kickoff 39 yards to give the Tigers good field position just short of midfield. A seven play drive covering 55 yards ended with tailback Menta’ Jones plunging in from the two. Highlight of the effort was a 26 yard toss from quarterback Davis Witt to wideout Reginald Henderson to set up the score. Colt Flynn added the point after, first of his three on the night.
The Cobras moved the ball on their next drive and moved to Clewiston’s 31 before being shut down again by the pesky Tiger defense. Starting 70 yards from a score, the Tigers moved the ball steadily for 13 plays but ran out of gas at the Cobra 16. Flynn punched through a 33 yard field goal to push Clewiston to a 10-0 lead.
Central finally got their offense clicking and scored after only 7 snaps, with most of the damage being done with their passing. Quarterback Jake Celidonio was 4 for 4 with flanker Kerwens Fils Aime getting wide open on blown coverage to pull in a 30 yard touchdown.
The Tigers got put in the hole on the following kickoff after a holding penalty and 3 plays going nowhere and went into punt formation. The snap seemed good but careened off the hands of Flynn who recovered the ball on the Clewiston 3 yard line. The Tiger defense rose to the challenge and stuffed the Cobra’s running attack with a loss of a yard. Then, Cobra running back Justen Hodge appeared to have the opening to cross the goal for a score when he got hit and separated from the ball with Tiger linebacker Isaiah Jackson falling on it at the 1 foot line. Clewiston then ran out the clock to end the first half.
The first half was a penalty marred affair with both squads being flagged 6 times for 122 yards, almost equally divided with the Tigers getting tagged for 62 yards. What observers did not know was that those matters were just going to get much worse. The second half saw Clewiston flagged another 12 times and the Cobras racking up another 9 infractions, with both teams each assessed 100 more yards.
The resulting 322 yards in penalties exceeded anyone’s recollection of a one game total being that high.
The second half kickoff, after an offside penalty, gave the Cobras the ball at their 40. It only took 5 plays for Central to take the lead when Hodge smashed in from 4 yards out. The Cobra score was set up by a 24 yard pass to Fils Aime from Celidonio. The point after kick by Seth Ingersoll sailed to the right. For the first time this season, the Tigers were on the short end of a score, behind 13-10.
The Tigers quickly showed they were still in the fight. A short kickoff put the offense in business at the Clewiston 40. Fullback Maurice Murphy hit for 7 yards on a trap play and then the Cobras got tagged with a 15 yarder personal foul. Murphy repeated the trap run for another 5 and then Jones charged for runs of 14, 5 and 5, with the final carry resulting in the touchdown with 8:59 left in the third. Tigers up by a 17-13 advantage.
The Cobras wound up their offensive tempo, the goal being simply to outmuscle and exhaust the Tiger defense. However, they got a surprise when Tiger defensive safety Anthony Walker picked off a Celidonio pass and returned it 37 yards to the Central 33. Maurice Murphy came right back on trap plays for gains of 10 and 7. After a holding penalty appeared to stifle the drive, Witt hit Henderson on a slant pattern for 15 yards to the 10. Then Witt found Murphy in the far corner of the field for a 10 yard score. With 4:01 left in the period, Clewiston was sporting a 24-13 lead.
The joy was short lived. The Cobras used only three plays and 50 seconds to cover the following 80 yard drive. The big play was another bomb to Fils Aime, this one for 55 yards to the 5. With 3:10 left in the third, Celidonio kept the ball and with the point after the Cobras had tightened the score down to 24-20.
On the ensuing drive, the Tigers managed a first down before having to punt and giving Central the ball at their own 23. The Cobras made quick work of that drive, covering all 77 yards when flanker Antonio Hadden was totally uncovered on a perfect strike from Celidonio.
The final period saw the Tigers driving to the Central 37 before running out of steam and punting the ball into the end zone. The Cobras then controlled the ball for 10 hikes and 80 yards, slowed down by two holding penalties, but finally scoring on a 12 yards scamper by Hodge. With the point after and only 5:19 left in the game, Cobras were up 34-24.
Clewiston’s hope got a big boost when return specialist Jahlin Humphries pulled in the kickoff at the 5 and dashed all the way to the Cobra 5, in what appeared to be a 90 yard return. However, the Tigers were called for an illegal block at the Cobra 40 on a questionable call. The Tiger blocker was engaged blocking the defender who suddenly turned his back to the block. The flag gave the Tigers the ball at the 50. Witt connected with Murphy for 11 yards and then the drive stalled, despite two long Cobra penalties. Clewiston settled for a field goal try and Flynn converted this one from 32 yards and narrowing the gap to 34-27 with 3:21 left.
From that point, Central controlled the ball and sealed the win and raised their record to 3-0. Clewiston got their first loss of the season and stands at 2-1.
Coach Walker had a lot of praise for his team’s effort. “This was a good game experience for our kids and a great test. We learned some lessons and they found out we could play against a team with more depth and bigger players. I’m proud of our blocking and saw great improvements and progress.” He added, “But, when you play a team of that caliber you simply can’t make mistakes. There’s no way we can overcome 162 yards of penalties against a team like that.”
Ft Pierce Central 0 7 20 7 34
Clewiston 7 3 14 3 27
1Q: Clewiston: Menta’ Jones 2 yd run; kick Colt Flynn
2Q: Clewiston: Colt Flynn, 33 yd Field Goal
Central: Kerwens Fils Aime 30 yd pass from Jake Celidonio; kick Seth Ingersoll
3Q Central: Justen Hodge 4 yd run; kick failed
Clewiston: Menta’ Jones 5 yd run; kick Colt Flynn
Clewiston: Maurice Murphy 10 yd pass from Davis Witt
Central: Jake Celidonio 5 yd run; kick Seth Ingersoll
Central: Antonio Hadden 77 yd pass from Jake Celidonio; kick Seth Ingersoll
4Q: Central: Justen Hodge 12 yd run; kick Seth Ingersoll
Clewiston: Colt Flynn, 32 yd Field Goal
Rushing: Clewiston: Menta’ Jones 21/129; Tyrin Summers 4/14; Zachary Seale 2/13; Maurice Murphy 11/47; Davis Witt 1/-4.
Passing: Clewiston: Davis Witt 22/8/0 118.
Receiving: Clewiston: Reginald Henderson 2/41; Tyrin Summers 3/16; Maurice Murphy 2/21; Menta’ Jones 1/40.