TARPON SPRINGS — The Spongers got 2013 off to a nice start with a commanding 28-3 Kickoff Classic victory over visiting Anclote High.
Tarpon Springs' recipe for victory primarily consisted of a heavy portion of clock-controlling runs and the dominant play of its defensive front seven.
Led by running back Michael Ford (23 carries, 117 yards, TD), Tarpon Springs rushed for 213 yards and all four of its touchdowns came on the ground.
Anclote, in contrast, could not find a similar wealth of holes in the Spongers defense. Tarpon Springs completely shut down Willie Barrett and the Sharks running attack, actually limiting it to minus-1 yard overall.
In addition to the likes of Mitchell Wilcox, Casey Luckenbill, Brian Anderson, Eric Kehoe and Robert Laffey throwing their weight around up front and flying to the ball, outside linebacker Damarkus Jones factored largely into Tarpon Springs' ability to push the Sharks rushing total into the red.
Before having to leave the game early with what's hoped to be a minor injury, Jones recorded three of the Spongers' five sacks of Anclote quarterback Brandon Vinkler, forced a fumble and nearly picked off a pass.
“We moved him from inside backer to outside backer,” Tarpon Springs coach Ron Hawn said of Jones' transition to the edge. “I'm really proud of the progress that he's made. He's very, very good at the position he's playing.”
Jones was walking on his own following the game and will have tests early next week to determine the extent of his injury. He said it felt good to get back on the field for live action after an extended absence earlier this year.
“I missed spring so I had to come back out here and be ready to go again,” the senior said. “I had to make up for all that. Hopefully I'll be good on Monday when I take these pictures so I'll be back here Friday.”
Tarpon Springs set the night's tone during the game's opening possession. The Spongers kept the ball on the ground for 11 of the 12 plays it ran in that initial series, driving 90 yards for a touchdown. Montell Johnson finished it off with a 9-yard run around the left side.
First-year starting quarterback Jarret Battyanyi looked plenty comfortable leading the Spongers' run-heavy attack, displaying a strong running ability and efficient decision-making when asked to pass. The senior ran for 29 yards on 10 attempts and completed his first six passes before ending 6 of 7 for 38 yards.
“He probably would've ended up being our quarterback [last year] at some point because he's an awesome, awesome kid and, man, can he run,” Hawn said of his signal caller. “He's not going to be blazing fast but he's strong.”
The Spongers' other primary option in the offensive backfield is Patrick Miller, who finished with 29 yards and two scores.
Miller, Battyanyi and Johnson also regularly comprise three-fourths of Tarpon Springs' base defensive secondary.
The Spongers pushed their lead to 14-0 in the second quarter on Miller's first score, a 7-yard run.
Coming out of halftime facing that 14-0 deficit, Anclote recognized the need to get downfield and found some success doing so. Vinkler pieced together a quality night passing, completing 11 of 22 attempts for 123 yards despite being under heavy duress on many drop-backs.
Vinkler's favorite target was Tymere Carter, hooking up with the 6-foot-2 athlete six times for 89 yards. Vinkler spread his 11 completions out to six different receivers.
After playing through a scoreless third quarter, both teams lit the board in the fourth.
Anclote kicker C.J. Peppe cut Tarpon Springs' lead to 14-3 with a 39-yard field goal early in the final period, but the Spongers answered back immediately with a 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive punctuated by a 3-yard Ford burst.
Tarpon Springs' Maurice Turner then recovered Anclote's fumbled kickoff return attempt, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by Miller.
After a brief postgame huddle with his team, Hawn said he was pleased with Friday's effort heading into next week's season opener at Clearwater High. He also mentioned a desire to get Anclote on the schedule each year to build the natural rivalry between schools separated by about five miles.
“It was a fun night,” he said, adding that a traveling trophy bestowed to each year's winner may be an option to think about. “That's a good rivalry we have and I think we're going to try and play those guys every year.”
Anclote opens its season at home next Friday night when it hosts Mitchell High.
AHS - 0 – 0 – 0 – 3 --- 3
TS - 7 – 7 – 0 – 14 --- 28
TS – Johnson 9-yard run. PAT kick (Zervos) – 1st Quarter (7:11)
TS – Miller 7-yard run. PAT kick (Zervos) – 2nd Quarter (9:59)
AHS – Peppe 39-yard FG – 4th Quarter (10:46)
TS – Ford 3-yard run. PAT kick (Zervos) – 4th Quarter (7:17)
TS - Miller 3-yard run. PAT kick (Zervos) – 4th Quarter (6:32)
TS – Ford (23-117, TD), Miller (8-61, 2 TD), Johnson (3-4, TD), Battyanyi (10-29).
AHS – Vinkler (11-22 for 123).
TS – Battyanyi (6-7 for 38).
AHS – T. Carter (6-89), S. Carter (1-24).
TS – Johnson (2-15), Miller (1-14).