HOLIDAY — Tarpon Springs got the last word.
The Spongers emphatically let it be known which team owns this young rivalry right now, traveling five miles up the road to wipe out Anclote, 31-0.
“It's a little different brand of football when you cross the river,” Tarpon Springs coach Ron Hawn pointedly said of his program located on the Pinellas County side of the Anclote River. “We looked good. We played hard and our guys deserve it.”
After plenty of chatter leading up to this Class 5A region quarterfinal, Tarpon Springs (7-4) was the team backing it up on the field. Hawn said he took particular exception to comments coming out of Anclote during an interview this week. “[Anclote] Coach [Matt] Wicks said something to the effect that we aren't as big as [Clearwater Central Catholic] so they should be able to run the ball anywhere they want on us.”
That wasn't quite the case Friday night.
The Spongers held Anclote (6-5) to only 38 total yards of offense and bottled up running backs Willie Barrett (eight carries for 20 yards) and Trent Crawford (10 for 21). The Sharks' 38 yards of total output was buoyed by one 24-yard Tymere Carter reception in the fourth-quarter that was initially ruled an incompletion and questionably overturned.
A byproduct of the Tarpon Springs defense continually shutting down Anclote drives was that it set up its offense with favorable field position all night.
Senior Montel Johnson and junior Michael Ford helped the Spongers take advantage by accounting for three of the team's four touchdowns. Johnson scored on two receptions of 38 yards and 33 yards, respectively, and totaled 121 yards of offense. Both scores came after making short catches and doing the rest with his legs.
“When I get a little bit of room there's no catching me. I'll put it like that,” Johnson said of the confidence he has in his open-field speed.
“He should be on the North County all-star team, without a doubt,” Hawn said of his dynamic playmaker.
Ford, Tarpon Springs' workhorse running back, cracked the century mark for the fifth time this season by picking up 145 yards on 23 carries. Up 3-0 early, Ford jump-started a 21-point Spongers second quarter. The junior started the drive by bursting through the middle for 42 yards and then finished it on the very next play with his 15-yard touchdown run.
Quarterback Jarrett Battyanyi capped the night's scoring with a 5-yard run with 8:46 left in the game.
Tarpon Springs' run-first offense doesn't typically call for much passing, especially when it's operating as planned, but Battyanyi made the most of his limited drop-back opportunities. The senior completed five of six attempts for 100 yards and the two touchdowns to Johnson.
Giving Battyanyi and the Spongers' coaching staff the luxury to keep things grounded, though, was the dominant play of its defensive front. Barrett and Crawford had no room to run and the Spongers recorded nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks of Anclote quarterback Brandon Vinkler. Spongers linemen Robert Laffey and Collin Walser and linebackers Mitchell Wilcox and Damarkus Jones made their collective presence felt all night.
As could be expected in a win-or-go-home local rivalry game, the field was littered with yellow flags all night. Tarpon Springs racked up 12 infractions for 130 yards and Anclote was hit 11 times for 110 yards.
The Spongers move on to play District 5A-8 champion Lakewood next week. The Spartans, who smashed Hudson 75-19 on Friday, won the regular-season matchup at Tarpon Springs, 46-21. The Spongers' last postseason victory came in 2009 when the team advanced to the Class 4A region finals under coach George Kotis. Only twice, that 2009 season and in 1986, has Tarpon Springs won multiple playoff games.
This is the second straight year Anclote sees its journey end in the region quarterfinals. Last year marked the Sharks' first postseason trip and Friday was their first home playoff game.
TS - 3 – 21 – 0 – 7 --- 31
TS – Zervos 32-yard FG. – 1st Quarter (1:20)
TS – Ford 15-yard run. PAT kick (Zervos) – 2nd Quarter (10:42)
TS – M. Johnson 38-yard pass from Battyanyi. PAT kick (Zervos) – 2nd Quarter (3:53)
TS – M. Johnson 33-yard pass from Battyanyi. PAT kick (Zervos) – 2nd Quarter (0:20)
TS – Battyanyi 5-yard run. PAT kick (Zervos) – 4th Quarter (8:46)
TS – Ford (23-145, TD), M. Johnson (4-50), Miller (6-19).
AN – Crawford (10-21), Barrett (8-20).
TS – Battyanyi (5-6 for 100, 2 TD).
AN – Vinkler (5-8 for 27).
TS – M. Johnson (2-71, 2 TD), Wilcox (1-14), Ford (1-11).