SARASOTA -- At halftime, Kevin Johnson pleaded with his coach to switch him to running back.
Johnson didn't have to waste that energy. John Warren had already made the decision. It's what football people would call a no-brainer.
Johnson showed his gratitude by rushing for 188 yards in the second half and scoring four third-quarter touchdowns to propel Southeast to a 41-20 victory over host Booker in a Class 5A-District 11 contest Friday night at Tornado Alley.
The victory, coupled with Hardee's loss to DeSoto, made Southeast the district runner-up. The Noles advance to the playoffs and in two weeks will play at 5A-12 champion Fort Myers Dunbar. Lemon Bay defeated Bayshore to tie Southeast at 4-1 in the district, but wins the title because it defeated the Noles during the regular season.
Johnson played mostly quarterback in the first half because the previous starting quarterback had left the team. It cut into what Johnson could do -- he only rushed for 10 yards on eight carries in the first half.
But Johnson did make a gigantic play when he threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Qion Burch with no time remaining on the clock to cut Southeast's deficit at halftime to 12-7.
"Right before the first half, I told coach to let me run the ball. We had a good offense going in the first half, but it wasn't as progressive as we wanted it to be," Johnson said. "At running back there are holes. He calls the plays and you just read downhill. At quarterback there are more reads and things you have to do, plus taking care of the football."
Johnson finished the night with 198 yards on 27 carries. He completed 3-of-6 passes for 106 yards. The one to Burch was about 15 yards in the air, then the junior took it the rest of the way on foot.
"We tried some stuff in the first half that didn't work, so we went with another package and Kevin is the best running back in the county," Warren said. "He runs and runs and runs and doesn't know when to stop. He has great seniors blocking for him and a sophomore quarterback (Tyler Stevenson), who stepped in for him."
Johnson told his teammates before kickoff that this was a must-win game, then took it upon himself to make it happen. He threw a 21-yard pass to Tyler Stevenson to set up another Southeast touchdown.
"It wasn't me. My offensive line did an excellent job and really played hard," Johnson said. "I would've been okay with a three-way tiebreaker, but we are going to the playoffs and we can't take anything for granted."
Booker took a 12-0 lead in the first quarter when Southeast looked somewhat lethargic and had trouble keeping up with the Tornadoes' passing game.
On the Noles' third play from scrimmage after halftime, Johnson scored from 26 yards out. Booker responded with a 32-yard touchdown, but on the first play on Southeast's next possession, Johnson ran for a 75-yard touchdown.
He scored from eight yards and then six yards to end the quarter. Teriq Houston scored the final touchdown on a one-yard run.
"It's a crazy feeling, but I believe in the kids and believe what we do is right," Warren said. "We could feel it coming and all of sudden, here we go and things are moving in the right direction. The kids work hard and do the right thing. We've had talent, but now we 're banding together."