ST. PETERSBURG - In a game that featured 14 lead changes and a 70-yard Hail Mary with three seconds left in regulation, Canterbury fell in the Florida state seven-man football championship, 70-66, to Clearwater Academy at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.
The loss prevented the Cougars from repeating last year’s title win. Canterbury will move to 11-man football last year, but the large mass of fans who made the trek from Fort Myers to St. Petersburg High School, chanted, “repeat’’ throughout the game and it looked like they would get what they wanted when the Cougars took a 66-62 lead with time running down on a 1-yard run by quarterback Alex Rabinowitz with 38 seconds remaining. That was too much time left as Clearwater quarterback Argi Radani launched a desperation pass that was hauled in at the corner of the end zone by Miles Putney .
Canterbury coach Mike Marciaino said his defense simply came up a bit short on a night when the championship and an undefeated season were on the line.
“It’s tough,’’ Marciaino said. “Defense wins championships and we came up short. But, you know, there are a lot of other teams that play seven-man that would have loved to have been in this game.’’
Marciaino said there could be some positive that came out of the game. Rabinowitz, who dominated on offense, is back next year when the Cougars make the jump to 11-man football.
“This was a stepping stone for us. We’ll be better at 11-man,’’ Marciaino said. “That’s how you play football.’’
Clearwater Academy jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but Canterbury came back to even the score and after that, the roller coaster ride to the state title really got underway.
Canterbury went ahead early in the fourth quarter on a 50-yard pass from Rabinowitz to Alex Morales, but Clearwater Academy countered two plays later to retake the lead. Rabinowitz and Morales hooked up again to put the Cougars back ahead. Clearwater Academy came back with just more than six minutes left.
Canterbury caught a break on its final offensive drive when the Cougars were stopped on fourth down and just over two minutes left, but the Knights were called on a helmet-to-helmet contact call that gave the Cougars new life. Rabinowitz scored with 38 seconds left to give Clearwater Academy just enough time to pull out an improbable finish.