ST. PETERSBURG — The road to a third-straight playoff appearance just got a lot more treacherous, but not completely unnavigable.
“You know what? It ain't over. We need a little help now.”
That was PHU coach Matt LePain following the Hurricanes' 28-6 Friday night setback at St. Petersburg.
What made this Week 6 game such a high-stakes matchup is the makeup of Class 8A District 7. With only four teams and the top seed widely believed to belong to Bradenton Manatee, PHU, St. Pete and Sarasota Riverview are left fighting for second. As expected, nationally regarded Manatee blew through Riverview tonight, 47-0.
“I don't know if Sarasota Riverview can beat St. Pete,” LePain said, “but if they do and I turn around and beat Sarasota Riverview, it puts us back into a three-way tie and we're back in the mix.”
Not having to depend on those future outcomes, though, would have been the optimal scenario.
Keeping the 'Canes from pulling out a victory Friday was an offense that rarely built any momentum against St. Pete's ferocious front seven. The Green Devils (4-1, 1-0) limited PHU (3-2, 0-1) to 138 total yards on 59 plays – an average gain of only 2.3 per snap.
St. Pete linebacker Riley Barr played a huge role in that disruptiveness, in on seemingly every tackle and recording three sacks.
“I watched a lot of film on them, knew what they could do, knew what I could do and I knew I could beat them,” Riley said of his confidence matching up against PHU blockers. “So I just kept working hard all night.”
Stopping 'Canes quarterback Tyler Kaminski is any defense's No. 1 priority and St. Pete did just that. Kaminski recorded just 24 total yards rushing and 78 through the air on 6 of 25 passing.
Conversely, keeping St. Pete's run-heavy attack in check primarily entails bottling up tailback Deangelo Reaves. After getting burned on the night's first play from scrimmage for a 48-yard touchdown by Reaves, PHU did just that. Reaves did finish with 101 yards on 21 carries and two scores, but his average plummeted to 2.7 yards per carry after that big run.
“They really honed in after that first series,” LePain said. “I can't really ask for anything better. I really can't. They stepped up tonight against a really good football team and played good, hard-nosed football.”
When PHU fumbled away possession later in the opening quarter and St. Pete went ahead 14-0 on Robert Tribolet's 21-yard hookup with Lionel Hart, it started to feel like it would be a long homecoming night on the road and in front of a television audience.
“My offensive coordinator [Joel Slawinski] mentioned to me that in practice we can't mimic that speed.” LePain said. “We don't have that. It took us a little bit of time to get used to it. But when we finally got used to it, that whole second half we came out and gave our offense a lot of opportunities to get something going. We just couldn't get anything going.”
Beyond not being able to crack PHU's defense after the first quarter, the Green Devils also whiffed on numerous scoring opportunities. St. Pete started seven of its 13 total drives in PHU's half of the field, including six times in the second half. Despite that massive advantage, the Green Devils repeatedly failed to light the scoreboard. St. Pete missed four total field goals throughout the night and had a holding penalty wipe out Darius Miller's fourth-quarter, 15-yard touchdown run when the score was still stalled at 14-6.
Not seeing any reward for their toils frustrated the St. Pete defense at first but galvanized it later, Barr said. “It made it hard at the beginning but that just made us pick our energy level up and just keep working hard.”
It wasn't until late in the fourth that Reaves finally put PHU away by scooting around the left end for a 6-yard touchdown and 21-6 St. Pete advantage. The Green Devils tacked on some style points with under a minute remaining with Jacquel Waller's 1-yard run.
PHU's lone score came at the end of a 17-play, 96-yard march that straddled the first and second quarters. Provided new life when St. Pete jumped on a fourth-and-4, 31-yard field goal attempt, Kaminski swung a pass out to Arkez Cason that went for a 6-yard touchdown.
The 'Canes crossed midfield on only one other occasion and were forced to punt seven times.
But as LePain stated, PHU had its opportunities because of the defense and special teams keeping the deficit at 14-6. Desmon Silva jumped on a St. Pete fumble in the third quarter to flip possession and Dominic Bonelli blocked a 30-yard field goal try with 9 1/2 minutes left. Nothing would come of either splash play.
PHU now has two weeks to prepare for its next crucial contest. Following next Friday's road game at Dunedin (1-4), the 'Canes welcome Riverview to Palm Harbor for a must-win matchup.
St. Pete travels to Seminole (1-5, 0-2) next week before hosting Manatee the same night of PHU-Riverview. Outside of Manatee being upset in one of its three district games, the Green Devils will then play for their playoff berth on Nov. 1 at Riverview. That's the night PHU will be in Manatee.
PHU - 0 – 6 – 0 – 0 --- 6
SPH - 14 – 0 – 0 – 14 --- 28
SP – Reaves 48-yard run. PAT kick (Bryant) – 1st Quarter (11:36)
SP – Hart 21-yard pass from Tribolet. PAT kick (Bryant) – 1st Quarter (3:51)
PHU – Cason 4-yard run. PAT kick failed – 2nd Quarter (8:02)
SP – Reaves 6-yard run. PAT kick (Bryant) – 4th Quarter (3:27)
SP – Waller 1-yard run. PAT kick (Bryant) – 4th Quarter (0:43)
PHU – Kaminski (15-24), Charron (9-23), Cason (6-13).
SPH – Reaves (21-101, 2 TD), Miller (7-70), Waller (3-10, TD).
PHU – Kaminski (6-25 for 78, TD).
SPH – Tribolet (2-5 for 27, TD).
PHU – Martinez (2-38), Bonelli (2-19), Cason (1-6, TD).
SPH – Hart (2-27, TD).