By Travis Mounts
Back-to-back touchdowns – one after a fumble recovery – lifted the Clearwater Indians to a 29-22 home win over the El Dorado Wildcats on Friday.
Clearwater opened the game with a three-and-out punt and then a long drive that ended on downs deep in El Dorado territory.
El Dorado struck first with a 14-yard touchdown run and 2-point conversion in the first quarter.
The Indians got things going after that, however, scoring 29 unanswered points in the second and third quarters.
Running back Weston Burford made it 8-7 on a 1-yard run, and then the Indians went ahead 14-8 on a 2-yard run by quarterback Tyler Fugarino. Both drives started in El Dorado territory.
The Indians’ defense did its part in the third quarter, recovering a Wildcats’ fumble on the El Dorado 28-yard line. The Indians struck quickly with a 28-yard scoring pass from Fugarino to Cooper Williams. Clearwater was successful on the 2-point try, and took a 22-8 lead.
After a quick 3-and-out by the Wildcats, Burford broke free on third down for a 70-yard touchdown run and a 29-8 lead.
The Wildcats made it interesting in the fourth quarter, however, with a pair of touchdowns on their next two possessions. On the second touchdown, the Wildcats converted a fourth down play in Clearwater territory and then scored on a 22-yard pass to pull to within 7 points, 29-22.
With the clock running under four minutes, the Indians had a chance to close out the game but turned the ball over on downs at the El Dorado 44-yard line with about a minute to play, coming up short on fourth-and-1.
With 1:06 to play, the Wildcats were able to drive inside the Clearwater 30-yard line before running out of time.
“The plan going in was to run some safe things early to see what they were going to do, and then exploit them,” said Clearwater head coach Jimmy McDowell.
Things started slowly for the Indians, but McDowell said the kids kept their heads up. The biggest issue was the Indians’ finish.
“We took our foot off the pedal late in the third quarter and fourth quarter,” McDowell said. That let the Wildcats back into the game.
El Dorado ran for 280 yards compared to 220 for Clearwater. The Indians held the edge in passing, 89 to 69 yards.
Burford had a big night for the Indians, rushing for 139 yards. Fugarino ran for 59 yards and was 4-for-9 passing. Aiden Snell picked up 39 rushing yards. Williams was the Indians’ top receiver, with three receptions for 79 yards.
McDowell said Fugarino took a big step forward and that the Indians will be opening up the playbook for him. He also praised his running backs and offensive line.
“Burford had a great game. And he’d tell you it was because of the guys up front” on the offensive line, and the lead blocking of Snell, McDowell said.
Burford and Snell led the defense with nine tackles each, and three more players recorded eight tackles each. Snell had a sack, and Burford recovered an El Dorado fumble.
Clearwater now faces three straight road games, starting Friday at the Wellington Crusaders. Wellington showed some good things last week but suffered a 63-14 home loss to the Andale Indians, the three-time defending 3A State champions who have not lost a game since the 2018 playoffs.