LAKELAND — Kathleen’s defense stood tall at crunch time against Bartow on Friday night at Johnny Johnson Stadium, preserving a 14-7 prep football victory in a crucial district battle that keeps the Red Devils alive for a playoff berth.
Kathleen free safety Zay Roberson, a ninth-grader, made a leaping interception of a halfback option pass from LJ Cummings to Tim Jordan at the KHS 7 and returned it to Bartow’s 45 in the final 2 ½ minutes to seal the win.
“Two plays before that, we said don’t get caught looking in the backfield,’’ Kathleen coach Irving Strickland said.
Jordan fooled the corner and was waiting for the football at the 7 when Roberson recovered and made the game-clinching pick-off.
“He was sitting under it like a center fielder and he made a heck of a play,’’ Bartow coach Jake McCrae said of Roberson.
The victory ends a three-game losing streak for Kathleen, which is 3-4 overall but 1-1 in Class 7A, District 7. Bartow fell to 3-3 and 0-2 in the district.
“Now we’ve still got something to play for,’’ Strickland said.
The Red Devils will play host to Lakeland in two weeks in a deciding district matchup.
Kathleen running back Ventrell Miller scored both of the Red Devils’ touchdowns on runs of 1 and 2 yards for a 14-0 lead halfway through the third period. Miller’s first dive up the middle followed a spectacular, stretched out, diving catch at the 1 from quarterback Shelton McNeal to Torean Sealey for 25 yards.
Strickland said Kathleen’s defensive game plan was simple – slow down Jordan, the second-leading rusher in Polk County with nine touchdowns and an average carry of 7.94 yards.
“He’s a great football player,’’ Strickland said. “We wanted to shut him down and make them throw the football.’’
Kathleen held Jordan to 66 yards on 13 carries, including a 24-yard touchdown jaunt with 1:09 left in the third period. Bartow quarterback Davin Williams was 2 of 10 for 12 yards with an interception. KHS held Bartow to 117 yards of total offense and was helped tremendously by Bartow penalties.
Bartow was hit with a deluge of pink penalty flags – eight for 80 yards, 70 in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets had several huge plays called back, including a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Cory Rowe Jr. after Kathleen had taken a 14-0 lead midway through the third period.
All but one of Bartow’s big plays – except for Jordan’s 24-yard TD run – were negated by penalty. In the first half, the Yellow Jackets didn’t capitalize on a Kathleen shanked punt for minus-1 yard that set them up at the KHS 31. Four plays later, quarterback Davin Williams was intercepted at the 19 by Nshavion Durr on a tipped pass.
Bartow also wasted a 51-yard kickoff return, and D’jimone Collins’ interception return to the KHS 9 was called back by a penalty. Jordan took a swing pass 26 yards to the KHS 29, and it was canceled by a penalty.
For Kathleen, running back Malik Williams came on strong in the second half to lead the Red Devils with 51 yards on 11 carries. McNeal ran 17 times for 34 yards and completed 8-of-15 passes for 83 yards with an interception and directed a conservative, efficient offense.