If anyone wondered why teams play pre-season games, a few minutes at Cane Field last night would have filled in the blanks very quickly. The Class 4A Tigers ended up on the short end of a 21-18 score as the Class 6A Charlotte Fighting Tarpons just made fewer mistakes and prevailed.
Clewiston’s performance was negatively dominated by a night filled with penalties, ending with 19 penalties for 145 yards. It seemed as if each penalty came at the right moment to stop a Tiger drive, or nullify a good play, or to provide the visitors with a chance to repeat a down. Tiger Coach Pete Walker muttered after the game, “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a team with that many penalties in a game.”
While the penalties virtually ensured a loss, the Tigers still had some bright spots and actually could have won the game. With a lot of new players, particularly on the offensive front, there were moments which show that the potential is there for a solid team and that the performance will hopefully improve as they gain experience.
Clewiston got on the scoreboard late in the opening period on a drive started when defensive end Andre Taylor intercepted a blocked Tarpon pass and gave the Tigers the ball at the visitor’s 34-yard line. The offense drove to the Charlotte 8 and went for the field goal. Kicker Colt Flynn nailed It from 25 yards out to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead. Otherwise Clewiston’s offense was absent in the first half, registering only 3 first downs and showing no consistency either rushing or throwing the ball.
The Fighting Tarpons also suffered a sloppy first quarter but got things going in the second period when quarterback Brennan Simms hooked up with flanker Stantley Thomas on a 29 yard pass completion for their first score with a little over 6 minutes remaining in the first half. The pass was the only impressive play on the 37 yard drive, which featured 4 incomplete passes, a 7 yard run and another for a 4 yard loss, sandwiched in between a Tiger offside penalty.
On their next possession starting at their own 39, Charlotte moved the ball to the Tiger 46. Simms dropped back to pass and hurled the ball downfield right through the hands of the Tiger defender into the waiting arms of Travon McClary who scampered into the end zone for a gift score. The teams went to intermission with the Tarpons holding a 14-3 edge.
The Tigers came out playing after the halftime break, taking the kickoff and marching 76 yards in 7 plays for their first score when wide receiver Reginald Henderson used his height and strength to wrestle a 19 yard Davis Witt pass away from two Charlotte defenders. Witt was a perfect 5 of 5 passing on the drive, with a 41 yarder to tight end Andre Taylor setting up the scoring play. Flynn converted the extra point and closed the score to 14-10.
Charlotte came right back with bruising tailback Elijah Mack doing the heavy work right up the middle. He scored on a 10 yard run with 5:33 left in the third period. The following point after kick by Dee Hicks gave the Tarpons a 21-10 advantage.
Clewiston’s final scoring drive began early in the final period at the Tiger 26 after a short Charlotte punt, aided by a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Tigers. Clewiston pasted together a 10-play drive featuring a mixture of Witt’s pinpoint passing and a key 13 yard rush by tailback Menta’ Jones. Witt had completions to Henderson 19 and 10 yards and then the touchdown pass coming on an 18 yard throw. In between, Witt also had completions to Taylor for 14 yards and wideout Tyrin Summers for 11 yards. The Tigers went for a two point conversion and Witt connected with Summers who stepped into the corner of the end zone. With 6:13 remaining, Clewiston had narrowed the Charlotte lead to 21-18.
Clewiston’s defense held Charlotte and the Tigers got the ball back on their 25 with 3:18 on the clock and a chance to put together a long scoring drive for the win. Two first downs got the offense near midfield but then 3 Tiger penalties on consecutive plays, totaling 25 yards, sealed the win for Charlotte.
Coach Pete Walker was unhappy with the team effort, especially the excessive penalties. ‘We’ve got a lot of new kids on our offensive line and it is just going to take some game experience to bring them along but we’ll get there”, he said. Adding, “Luckily, we had no serious injuries tonight and will head for our season opener at LaBelle in pretty decent physical shape.”
Senior quarterback Davis Witt, who already owns the all-time Clewiston passing record, competed 17 of 33 passes for 190 yards. Flanker Reginald Henderson pulled in 5 of those passes for 72 yards and the 2 touchdowns. Sophomore tailback Menta’ Jones led Tiger rushers with 93 hard earned yards on 22 attempts.
Defensively, the Tigers were quick off the ball with the defensive front and the linebackers playing well. The weak area was needless penalties caused by players lining up in the neutral zone or jumping offside, along with two costly personal foul infractions.