'Canes cruise into state title game
Published: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 12:28 a.m.
NAVARRE — It may have been a long way to play a state semifinal, but for the Gainesville Hurricanes, the 335-mile trip home couldn't be sweeter.
Case Harrison caught three of Mark Cato's four touchdown passes, all in succession in the second half, and Ralph Webb ran for 157 yards and three scores as No. 1 Gainesville crushed No. 10 Navarre 62-26 in a Class 6A state semifinal Friday night.
The Hurricanes (14-0) will play Miami Central (11-2) for the state title next Saturday at 1:07 p.m. at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. It has been 32 years since the last time GHS played in a state championship in football, winning it all in 1980 by beating Titusville for the 3A crown.
“We are just thankful and we feel blessed,” said GHS second-year coach James Thomson, whose team set a school record for wins in a season with 14. “It is a great feeling, it is a humbling feeling. The credit goes to the kids. They know we have one more to play. That has been our mission since the start of the season.”
Trailing the entire game, Navarre (12-2) closed the gap to 41-26 early in the fourth quarter. But then the 'Canes delivered the knockout punches when Cato hit Harrison for 9- and 19-yard touchdowns, then after a Raider fumble, Webb ripped off the closer, a 31-yard scamper down the GHS sideline, and the rout was sealed.
With five minutes left in the game, the gap was so big a running clock went into effect.
“We came out here and played our hearts out in the first half, and they came back strong,” said Harrison, who finished with four catches for 76 yards. “I give them (Navarre) all the credit in the world for not coming out flat in the second half.
"The only way I get those touchdowns is if Mark throws me the ball, if Ralph doesn't set it up with his hard running, if tight end Nick McGriff doesn't block and our whole offensive line doesn't block, we don't get anywhere. It was a whole team win tonight.”
Thomson said Harrison, who also had two critical third-down runs in the second half, stepped up when the team really needed a spark.
“Case is probably the most important piece to our offense and he stepped up and won the game for us,” Thomson said.
Cato completed 13 of 20 passes for 222 yards. UF commit Chris Thompson had four catches for 48 yards and a score, while Tony James had 62 yards rushing, pushing him over 1,000 for the season.
The 'Canes finished with 455 yards of offense.
“(Harrison) is just a great receiver, he is always going to catch the ball. I have faith in him,” Cato said. “When we need a play to happen, he is the one I look at.
“It is just great, great for the whole city. Hopefully, we can go down there and win it.”
Turnovers plagued Navarre in the first half, helping Gainesville build a 28-0 lead.
Navarre running back Jay Warren fumbled during a 35-yard run and the Hurricanes recovered in their end zone, giving them the ball at their own 20. Eight plays later, James ran it in from 15 yards out and GHS took a 7-0 lead.
On the Raiders' next possession, on their second play, the snap went over quarterback Andrew Rieves' head and GHS defender Alex Gonzales recovered in the end zone for a GHS touchdown. The point-after kick failed and the lead grew to 13-0 late in the first quarter.
The 'Canes defense set up another score when it tackled the Navarre punter after a poor snap, giving GHS the ball at the Raider 15. Four plays later, Webb scored from two yards. Cato hit Larry Prunty for a two-point conversion and the lead grew to 21-0.
Following a 52-yard pass from Cato to Kenric Young, the 'Canes marched to their fourth score of the half, a 4-yard run by Webb and a 28-0 cushion at intermission.