VERO BEACH — St. Edward’s rolled to a surprisingly one-sided 28-6 win over Sunshine State Athletic Conference foe Carrollwood Day School of Tampa Friday night at Pirate Stadium.
With the victory against a strong conference rival, the Pirates have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the SSAC’s seven team south division.
After Carrollwood scored on their opening possession – and with the Pirates offense off to a sluggish start – all it took was one big play on defense to turn the game around.
Freshman linebacker Aaron McGee scooped up a Carrollwood fumble and rambled 53 yards for six points with just over a minute gone in the second quarter. A Dillon Benson extra point gave St. Ed’s a 7-6 lead they never relinquished.
It took a while for the Pirates offense to get going. No first downs and three punts were all they could muster until just under five minutes to go until halftime.
From their own 35 on second-and-four, quarterback Collier Proctor hit J.D. McGee for a 24-yard completion and the chains moved for the first time. From the Carrollwood 41, Jamari Williams carried four times for 28 yards. Cortez Brown chipped in with an 11 yard sweep around left end .
Williams sealed the deal with a 10-yard burst into the end zone, aided by Proctor’s deft ball handling. The 9-play drive covering 69 yards ate up most of the remaining second quarter time and upped the margin to 14-6 at halftime.
The Pirates got the ball back to start the second half and two penalties had them going in reverse almost immediately. Not to be outdone, Carrollwood’s defense returned the favor with a pass interference call for an automatic St. Ed’s first down. St. Ed’s countered with a holding rap that negated a 9-yard Williams gain.
The yellow flag avalanche climaxed after Proctor connected with David Cicco for nine yards to the Carrollwood 45. The Patriots were hit with two major infractions for 30 yards that advanced the ball all the way into the red zone. Brown broke several tackles for the final 15 and the Pirates stretched the lead to 21-6.
Carrollwood had no other choice than to air it out in the fourth quarter, but the Pirates defense was more than up to the task.
After Dillon Benson came up just short on a 51-yard field goal attempt to open the fourth period, Patriots quarterback Deuce Gruden, the son of former NFL coach Jon Gruden, completed five consecutive passes for 57 yards to set up his offense at St. Ed’s 15. His next pass was picked-off in the end zone by Proctor.
Carrollwood got the ball back with nearly seven minutes to go. This time Proctor didn’t wait. He intercepted Gruden’s next pass and returned it to the Pirates 38.
With six minutes remaining, the Pirates put the ball on the ground and couldn’t be stopped. Brown ripped off 22 yards before Williams carried three times for 19 more. Brown’s 19-yard end run put the ball at the one. After an incomplete pass, Williams blasted in for the score. Benson’s fourth extra point made it 28-6.
Freshman Sean Berry added a nice finishing touch by intercepting Gruden in the waning seconds for the Pirates third pick of the night.
Pirates head coach Bill Motta was clearly pleased with how the evening unfolded, even after his team fell behind 6-0.
“They opened up with a six minute drive, but there were no big plays,” Motta noted. “That was pretty good.”
Carrollwood’s opening 77-yard drive took 10 plays, but save for an excruciating 35-yard Gruden-to- Dillon Floyd completion on third-and-long into tight double coverage, Motta was on target, saying “we knew that if we made them earn their points, we had a pretty good chance.”
The Aaron McGee fumble return and three fourth quarter interceptions keyed a defense that neutralized a potentially high-powered Carrollwood offense through the final three-and-a-half quarters.
“You’ve got to love turnovers,” Motta said. “We work very hard on that.”
Once the offense picked-up the pace, the outcome was never in doubt. “Coach (Lou) Ferrari had a great game plan,” said Motta. “We were able to spread them out and mix in the run and pass.”
So far, so good for the first year head coach. He believes his team is headed in the right direction.
“We had a good session in our pregame talk,” Motta explained. “We discussed playing together and how everyone on this team has an important role. They all bought into it.”
Continuing with that theme, he said “I didn’t see anybody taking any plays off. They were tired, but that’s when we look for team chemistry and unity.”
The Pirates take their 2-0 conference record on the road for another south division test against Merritt Island Christian School next Friday night.