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Friday night recap

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Final scores

Bloomingdale 15, Armwood 14

Pinellas Park 31, Largo 14

Calvary Christian 16, Carrollwood Day 7

Final: Tampa Catholic 35, CCC 0

Jesuit 35, Clearwater 21

Gaither 34, Chamberlain 6

Sumner 21, Spoto 0

Tampa Bay Tech 34, Steinbrenner 10

Wesley Chapel 20, Sunlake 13

Robinson 46, Brandon 0

River Ridge 13, Fivay 0

Lakewood 42, Gibbs 0

East Bay 20, Sickles 14

Middleton 30, Blake 12

IRC 49, Bell Creek 0

Brentwood Academy 34, Clearwater Academy 18

Wharton 50, Freedom 0

Sarasota Riverview 40, East Lake 7

Newsome 13, Durant 10 (OT)

Cypress Creek 28, Osceola 17

St. Petersburg Catholic 42, Dunedin 26

Plant City 44, Riverview 7

Cambridge Christian 29, Northside Christian 28 (OT)

Lakeland Christian 23, Seffner Christian 0

Bishop McLaughlin 47, Keswick Christian 28

Lennard 29, Plant 22

Auburndale 33, Pasco 0

Wiregrass Ranch 50, St. Petersburg 10

Hudson 40, Anclote 23

Bradenton Christian 27, Zephyrhills Christian 26

Prime time teams

Bloomingdale: After giving Armwood all it could handle in a pair of losses last year, the Bulls were intent on reversing the outcome. They did it thanks to being opportunistic on special teams, twice rallying in the second to pull out a dramatic 15-14 victory over the three-time defending state semifinalist Hawks.

Tampa Catholic: The Crusaders snapped a five-game losing streak to bitter rival Clearwater Central Catholic with a 35-0 victory that ended up having a running clock in the fourth quarter due to the mercy rule.

Jesuit: Last season, the Tigers started 0-2. This year, they are undefeated after two games. Jesuit kept its streak going by rallying to beat Clearwater 35-21 to exact some revenge for last year’s loss.

Plant City: The Raiders, who went 5-5 last year, showed they are serious playoff contenders after jumping out to a 37-point halftime lead before easing off the gas in a commanding 44-7 win over Riverview.

Prime time performers

DB Philip Riley, Sr., Bloomingdale: The Notre Dame commit returned a kickoff 53 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the game winner in the win over Armwood.

WR Mario Williams, Sr., Plant City: The Oklahoma commit caught a pair of touchdown passes and threw for another in the win over Riverview.

QB Joe Pesansky, Sr., Jesuit: The transfer from Virginia threw for three touchdown passes, all to Carter French, and ran for another score in the win over Clearwater.

ATH AJ Williams, Jr., Tampa Catholic: The versatile playmaker showed off his explosiveness with a 72 yard touchdown reception and a 54 yard punt return for another score in the win over CCC.

WR Richie Ilarraza, Sr., Calvary Christian: The Howard recruit caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in the second half for what turned out to be the winning score in a 16-7 win over Carrollwood Day.

WR Jamari Gasset, Sr., Tampa Bay Tech: The Buffalo commit had a 50 yard touchdown reception and returned a punt 75 yards for another score in a 34-10 win over Steinbrenner.

Dazzling debuts

Sumner: The first-year high school won its inaugural varsity football game, beating Spoto 21-0.

Mike Williams, Wharton: The former Middleton coach could not have asked for a better start with the Wildcats, especially after a 50-0 rout over rival Freedom 50-0 in the opener.

John Courtney, Middleton: The first-year Tigers coach, who took over for Mike Williams, guided the team to a season-opening 30-12 win over rival Blake.

Ken Stills, Bishop McLaughlin: The former IMG running backs coach got off on the right track in his first game with the Hurricanes, who beat Keswick Christian 47-28.

Arkese Parks, Robinson: The freshman running back finished his varsity game with 60 yards and a touchdown in the win over Brandon.

Rod Gainey, Tampa Bay Tech: The freshman athlete ran for more than 100 yards, including a 60-yard score, in the win over Steinbrenner.

Fantastic finishes

Two games went into overtime. Cambridge Christian rallied to beat Northside Christian 29-28 to remain undefeated. Pate West scored the touchdown in overtime and Jaiden Bivens had winning two-point conversion.

Newsome came back to knock off rival Durant 13-10. Matt Wingo had the winning score in overtime.

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Tampa Bay Tech’s Rod Gainey transfers to IMG Academy

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Rod Gainey, one of the nation’s premier running backs in the Class of 2024, is leaving Tampa Bay Tech after one season to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Titans coach Jayson Roberts confirmed. 

As a freshman last season, Gainey rushed for 836 yards (7.7 per carry) and had 10 touchdowns on the ground to give Tampa Bay Tech’s high-powered passing game some balance. 

Already a youth league legend in Hillsborough County, Gainey’s performance in his debut high school season only solidified his stats as one of the county’s top recruits in his class. 

Gainey already has offers from Florida, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Toledo, UCF, USF and West Virginia, among others. 

This is the second offseason the Titans have lost a star ball carrier to IMG. Last year, Stacey Gage, an incoming freshman at the time, said he was deciding between Tampa Bay Tech and IMG. He ultimately joined the Ascenders, who are a national powerhouse. 

Though the loss of Gainey hurts, Roberts said the ground game still is in solid shape thanks to an offensive line that returns all five starters — Kai Gadson, Shaun Lango, Fred Neal, DJ Porcher and J’shon Scott. And that list does not include Melvin Sylvester, a 6-foot-5, 270 pound incoming freshman who should get plenty of playing time. 

James Evans, John Ponder and Ronald Sims will now handle the bulk of the rushing load, Roberts said. 

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Meet Lakewood’s queen of the block

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Melia Garcia knew all about the success of Lakewood’s athletic program before arriving this year as an advanced placement and honors world history teacher.

The subject that really piqued her interest was football. Discussions about the sport constantly came up, particularly among the players in her classes.

Garcia was hooked. She became one of the Spartans’ most ardent supporters, attending nearly every game.  

Still, Garcia grew tired of watching from the stands. So she came up with an idea that would allow her to be more directly involved with the program.

In January, Garcia asked Lakewood coach Cory Moore about joining the football staff. 

There were no double takes from Moore, despite Garcia having no previous coaching experience. 

“I knew she was serious about it,” Moore said. “And I welcomed it because I saw just how good of a teacher Melia is in the classroom and how well she interacted with her students.

“I thought that was exactly the kind of addition we could use on staff.”

At first, Moore had Garcia observe offseason conditioning so they could decide the best fit for her as an assistant. 

Garcia zeroed in on the trenches. 

She wanted to coach the offensive line. 

“That’s the one area I felt most passionate about,” Garcia said. 

Women have broken plenty of barriers to coach at the highest level of football. There are currently eight female coaches in the NFL, including two on the staff of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar. 

Those trailblazers helped pave the way for other females to become coaches in the college and high school ranks.

Garcia admires what they have done, but insists that is not the sole reason she wanted to pursue a job as an assistant. 

“I really wanted to set my own boundaries,” she said. 

So Garcia created her path by instructing big-bodied students to pave the way for others on the offensive side of the ball. 

The bond with blockers grew from her friendship with Tyler Armillay, a former standout lineman from Scranton, Pa. who went to play at Assumption and is now the offensive line coach at Endicott College.

Their conversations would often be about life on the line. Armillay taught Garcia the fundamentals of pass protection and moving defenders out of the way in the run game.

Garcia felt she could do the same with her students. 

Before that could happen, she needed acceptance. Garcia worried how a bunch of teenage boys would react to a female instructing them on the field. 

Those concerns were quickly soothed.

“Once the guys could see that she knew what she was talking about, they had a great relationship,” Moore said. 

Garcia gets her point across because she knows how to teach.

“I think they wanted someone that was nurturing enough to not crush their spirit but tough enough to make sure they didn’t mess around,” Garcia said.  

Her involvement is not restricted to drawing Xs and Os on a board. During spring practice, Garcia stood among her pupils as they jabbed and punched. She talked about body balance and counterstrikes and proper footwork.

Often, Garcia demonstrated by getting in the middle of piles. 

“Melia is not just some bystander,” Moore said. “At practice, she is in the dirt, in the grind. She’s hands-on all the way.”

Isaiah Cooper, a three-year starter who has played every position on the Spartans’ offensive line, was impressed. 

“She’s phenomenal,” Cooper said of Garcia. “You couldn’t even tell she was new. There were some things I didn’t know, that she knew. And she knows how to listen and find ways to relay the information in ways that we’ll understand.”

Her impact is felt off the field, too. 

Moore made Garcia an academic advisor. Players are required to turn in progress reports, complete with signatures from the teachers. Those who fail to do so are not allowed to practice. 

“The grades were a little rough for some, and now they’ve improved tremendously,” Cooper said. “Everything has gone a lot more smoothly as far as academics.”

And they should continue to improve with Garcia running study hall this fall.

“Melia has far exceeded my expectations,” Moore said. “In the classroom. On the field. She does it all.

“She is the real deal.”

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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