LARGO — Naples Barron Collier’s spread offense controlled the ball, the defense targeted Largo standout running back Jaquan Hiers effectively, then added a 19-yard pick-six from Michael McLay to take a 17-7 lead 1˝ minutes into the second half of Friday’s Class 6A region quarterfinal.
But the host Packers found plenty of other weapons and plenty of heart. Scoring the next three times it touched the ball, Largo soared past the Cougars for a 27-24 victory.
Advancing to the region semifinals for the first time since 2009, the third-seeded Packers (8-2) travel to No. 2 Naples on Friday.
No. 6 Barron Collier (5-6) could have had an even bigger advantage if not for Solomon Brown. Largo’s junior safety intercepted a wide receiver option pass in the end zone to crush a second-quarter threat. Brown, then playing halfback, took Largo’s second offensive play around right end for 54 yards to the Cougar 23, setting up a 15-yard Jayion McCluster touchdown sweep that turned a potential 10-0 deficit into a 7-3 Packers lead.
On the pick, Brown said: "I just knew it was goal line, they wanted to throw it deep, and I just stayed in my backpedal and there it went."
After McLay’s pick-six, Largo coach Marcus Paschal swapped quarterbacks, replacing starter James Green with Kyle Wisniewski, and the offense responded.
"Kyle kind of started slow last week (in a loss to Lakewood), so we made the change," Paschal said. "We really weren’t getting what we wanted at the beginning (Friday), so we made the change again. We’re not relying on one person to lead this team."
Wisniewski started out hot after a leaping catch from Calvin Lockett covered 37 yards and set up the junior quarterback for a 1-yard touchdown sneak to cut the deficit to four.
After strong defense from D.J. Bullard and Jaquaze Sorrells (two sacks each in the game) as well as junior backup Raymond Collins forced the Cougars to punt, Brown ripped off a 64-yard run up the middle to give Largo a lead it wouldn’t lose.
"My coaches told me on one of my last runs that I could have run for a touchdown but didn’t hit the crease hard enough," explained Brown, who finished with 153 yards on just nine carries. "I listened to the coaches and did it."
Green redeemed himself well by sniping a pass from Jacob Kuhlman (20-of-30, 179 yards) and returning it 20 yards for the eventual winning touchdown.
The Cougars got a 3-yard touchdown run from Dana Brown, then moved the ball near midfield before the wheels came off. Kuhlman suffered his fifth sack of the game and a leg injury took him out. Junior nose tackle Malcolm Barber had a tackle for a loss and Barron Collier turned the ball over on downs with 54 seconds left.
"We fight as a family," said Paschal. "We’ve got the Jaquazes, the college commits, but Solomon’s been itching for the ball all year and James (Green) has come in every day and worked his tail off. We showed up when it counted, and our 2017 football season continues."