TAMPA – Everything looked to be falling perfectly into place for Chamberlain Head Coach Joe Severino. On the evening of his final home game before retiring a storied 30-year career, it seemed his Chiefs (1-8) were well on their way to a big upset over Steinbrenner with the lead late in the fourth quarter. But the Warriors (6-3) thought otherwise and after completing not one, but two incredible plays, Steinbrenner finished off the comeback and beat Chiefs in overtime to clinch its first winning season in the program’s three year history.
The game started out well for the Warriors, who drove the ball from their own 20 yard line into Chamberlain territory thanks to a handful of rushes from senior Cody Cazin and junior Kendall Pearcey. After Cazin set up a first down on third and short, Pearcey found a hole and turned on the burners for a 42-yard touchdown to get Steinbrenner on the scoreboard.
After both teams would turn over the ball on downs, the Chiefs exposed an edgy Warriors defense on their ensuing possession with a weapon of their own: halfback Xavier Johnson, who finished with 32 carries for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
Right off the first snap, Johnson found a hole and sped off for a 12-yard gain to surprise the Warriors defensive line and give his team a first down. After teammate Nick McNeal gained about five on an inside rush, Johnson slipped through a hole on the outside and tied the game with a 32-yard touchdown. Steinbrenner would however answer Johnson’s score with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by senior Zack Jones, tying a 2010 return by Jake Carroll for longest in school history.
In the second quarter, Johnson continued to show-off his speed after breaking through a host of Warrior defenders en route to a 27 yard gain. McNeal finished the job with a 32-yard touchdown of his own to tie the game at 14.
The Pearcey/Cazin combo continued to make strides on Steinbrenner’s next possession, as the duo combined to
accumulate 25 yards on two rushes after Pearcey’s 57-yard kickoff return. Pearcey would make it into the end zone on a 1-yard gain for his second touchdown of the night to give the Warriors the lead headed into halftime.
In the third quarter, Johnson and the Chiefs would waste no time tying the game back up, as Johnson eluded the defense for a 51-yard touchdown.
After Steinbrenner three and out, Chamberlain would march the ball back down the field and into Warriors territory entering the fourth quarter. Quarterback Josh Bennett called his own number on third down and muscled his way to pick up a Chiefs first down. Bennett would find McNeal in the back of the end zone to give Chamberlain the lead by six after a blocked extra point.
With plenty of time left on the clock, Steinbrenner would begin the longest drive of the game, and of its season. After multiple penalties, the Warriors found themselves taking one step forward and three steps back after every play. Sophomore quarterback Curtis Fitch would get the ball moving up field though, with a short pass to wide receiver Josh Roberts. Facing fourth down and 20 yards to go, Fitch made a 26-yard completion to Jon Marc-Carrier to give Steinbrenner an unprecedented first down and momentum. But Fitch wasn’t done there, facing fourth and seven he tossed it up and somehow found Carrier for a 42-yard reception with less than 45 seconds to play.
“Before they even didn’t have me in there doing the play,” said Carrier. “(Fitch) just called my number again. … I just was just worried about catching the ball.”
After the Chiefs stopped the Warriors on their first two scoring attempts, Pearcey found his way through the line for the game tying touchdown on fourth and goal with the win hindering on one extra point. Sophomore kicker Drew Stevens couldn’t find his footing off of a bad snap and the kick sailed wide left sending the game into overtime.
Chamberlain elected to play defense to start the extra period, so the Warriors started out on the Chiefs ten yard line with four chances to score.
Steinbrenner began with a quick outside pitch to Pearcey, but after a holding call was pushed back to the 15 yard line.
On the very next play, Fitch found Carrier along the side of the end zone and took the lead thanks to good footwork by Carrier to keep his foot in bounds.
“Coach said go make a play, and Fitch put it out there,” said Carrier, who finished with three catches for 76 yards and one touchdown. “It was a great pass and I just caught the ball.”
Chamberlain would attempt to answer on its overtime possession and had three great shots. After Johnson put the offense within five yards, mistakes, which has eluded them up to this point, would begin to hurt the Chiefs. Bennett found tight end JaMarcus Russ wide open in the end zone, but the ball slipped through Russ’ hands setting up one final attempt for Chamberlain. Bennett dropped back and took a shot at Carlin Scott for the score, but the Scott couldn’t hang on when he hit the turf and the game ended with numerous Chamberlain players in shock and disbelief.
“We never quit, we never gave up,” said Severino. “It was a (heck) of a game, but it’s just disappointing.”
Steinbrenner will head home next week to finish off its season against Middleton (0-9) and Chamberlain will travel to Hillsborough (7-2). Both games are on Thursday Nov. 10 and begin at 7:30pm.
Odom’s Prime Time Performers:
Xavier Johnson – Chamberlain – Even in a losing effort, Johnson proved he is the real deal and is possibly the best running back in Hillsborough. The 5-9 170 pound junior rushed for over 250 yards on 32 carries and was unstoppable the entire game.
Head Coach Joe Severino – Chamberlain – It’s rare for a coach to get on the list, but Coach Severino is an exception. It was announced in a ceremony prior to the game that Severino will be retiring after the season and his 30 years of football and track and field coaching in Hillsborough County will come to an end. His career included stints at Tampa Bay Tech, Gaither and Chamberlain. Severino has been named National Football Federation Coach of the Year, St. Petersburg Times Coach of the Year and two-time Tampa Tribune Coach of the Year. He took over for longtime Chiefs coach Billy Turner three seasons ago.
Jon Marc-Carrier – Steinbrenner – A quiet night altogether, but came through late for the Warriors. Carrier had three clutch receptions late in the game, including the game winner in overtime to seal the victory for Steinbrenner.
Curtis Fitch – Steinbrenner – Fitch finally showed his true potential with a near perfect night at quarterback. Not only did he put the ball in the perfect spot at the right time, the sophomore led the Warriors to their first comeback victory of the season.
Kendall Pearcey – Steinbrenner – Pearcey was stopped from breaking out for much of the second half, but that didn’t stop his touchdown total from going up. He added three more tonight and gained over 100 yards.
Jeff Odom – Sports Editor