ST. PETERSBURG — Avon Park traveled nearly two hours Friday night to play St. Petersburg Catholic for its annual spring football game. Despite coming away with a 27-12 loss, the Red Devils emerged from their long road trip a wiser and more complete team.
“I’m very pleased with how we played,” Avon Park coach Wade Jackson said. “We played with great tenacity and energy, and got a great effort from everybody. We’ve got something to build on and I’m happy about that.”
Jackson knew his Devils faced an uphill battle playing SPC, which finished 8-4 last year and made the Class 3A state playoffs. But Class 4A Avon Park played inspired football, showing loads of promise for the upcoming season.
“St. Pete’s got some studs,” Jackson said. “But we tackled well, ganged up on some guys, and had a lot of big stops. We really did well at all the things I was looking forward to seeing.”
Both teams got off to a tepid start. Since there were no kickoffs, SPC chose to receive, and the Barons got a taste of the Devils new-look defense. SPC quarterback Jordan Leston and running back Emmanuel Eke took the brunt of the damage, as the Barons opened the game with a handful of running plays.
Marching the ball into Devils territory, Avon Park’s bend-but-don’t-break defense got a momentum changing stop on fourth down, when the defensive line swarmed SPC running back Jaquan Fuller.
Taking over on offense, quarterback Kody Littles started the first series. Giving a healthy amount of carries to running back Joe Nance, the Devils quickly moved the ball into the red zone. But a costly turnover nullified a potential Avon Park touchdown.
Late in the second half, an Avon Park defensive mistake let Fuller slip behind the secondary, and Leston connected with him for the game’s first touchdown. Avon Park’s resolve wasn’t dampened despite giving up a score, but a few more miscues on offense kept the Devils off the board.
The Barons scored two more touchdowns to take a 21-0 lead, but Avon Park rebounded with the highlight of the game, when Warren Buckner connected with Moise Satine for a 77-yard touchdown pass. Despite another touchdown pass from Lestor, Avon Park’s defense never quit. The Devils rallied for another fourth-down stop late in the second half that earned a bevy of praise from the coaching staff.
In the fourth quarter, Avon Park capped a brilliant drive with a touchdown. Claudy Antione did most of the damage on the ground, slashing through the Barons’ defense with a dazzling array of spins and jukes. Dee Kerney took over from there, pounding the ball into the end zone.
With the Kickoff Classic now months away, Jackson said he’s excited about the team’s summer workouts. After wrapping up final exams, the Devils will resign themselves to the weight room. And in July, Avon Park will be organizing 7-on-7 games with Sebring and Lake Placid.
“We’ve got a lot of players who are going to be sophomores, and they’ve got fire and passion about the game,” Jackson said. “And I’m really pleased by tonight because anything we did wrong, we can fix. And with the way the guys came out tonight, I can’t wait to see where we are after a summer in the weight room.”