High School Football

Prep football | Receiver Cory Crawford becomes runner in Palmetto Tigers' victory over Riverview

SARASOTA -- When Palmetto's offense needed a big play to turn the momentum in its regular-season opener against Riverview, the Tigers turned to Cory Crawford.

But the star senior wide receiver wasn't called upon to perform his usual duties.

Crawford was thrust into a running back role because starting tailback Josh Hicks injured his ankle early in the third quarter and missed the remainder of the non-district contest.

Crawford put on his best impersonation of Brian Poole -- the University of Florida freshman who starred at multiple positions last fall with Southeast -- and obliged the Tigers faithful.

Palmetto escaped the difficult opener 24-13 over the host Rams on Friday night.

"I like to thank my offensive line and my receivers for believing in me that I could do it," Crawford said.

Crawford's statement run of the game came when his team held a 14-6 lead late in the third quarter.

He bulldozed his way up the middle, breaking about five tackles and sling-shotted his way off another Riverview defender as he scampered 25-yards to pay dirt.

Then in the fourth quarter as Riverview clawed its way to within eight points, Crawford electrified with a 63-yard burst down the left sideline past the Rams defense before he was pulled down inside Riverview's 20-yard line.

That play set up a Zack Reda 31-yard field goal that lifted the Tigers to a comfortable 11-point cushion with three minutes, 29 seconds left in the game.

Leon Gilbert, who served as Hicks' backup last season, did not play.

Consequently, Crawford was asked to play tailback.

And Crawford, who finished with 131 rushing yards on 14 carries, said he was ready for the opportunity.

"I've been getting reps in practice," he said. "Just getting thrown in the fire like that, quick at running back, I really wasn't expecting that but coming in and trying to finish out the game was really, really tough for me."

Palmetto also lost starting quarterback Spencer Atkins, who left after halftime with his throwing shoulder heavily iced.

Head coach Dave Marino said he wasn't sure of the extent of Atkins' injury.

"We don't know if he has a separation in there," Marino said. "We don't know if he has a broken collarbone. We have no idea. All I know is he lost feeling, and couldn't raise his arm. How are you going to throw?"

That meant sophomore Chris Tuten, embroiled in a fight for the starting position with Atkins this summer, played the second half.

He was more than a backup on Friday night.

The first play following Hicks' injury exit, Tuten tossed a 36-yard laser to Shaq Harris, who snagged the ball over a defensive back to make it 14-6 early in the third period.

Meanwhile, Palmetto's defense -- a question mark entering 2012 due to all the losses from last fall's Class 5A state semifinal squad -- stepped up in the second half.

After a sluggish opening stanza by Palmetto's defensive unit, Broddrick Waters came up with two huge defensive plays to turn away Riverview's shot at tying the game.

He picked off Rams QB Dominic Marino twice.

First, it was an interception that set up Crawford's dashing run to the end zone in the third quarter.

Then, with the Tigers clinging to a 21-13 lead, Marino lofted what looked like a TD pass.

But Waters came from nowhere to make a leaping interception grab, and the Rams didn't threaten again.

"I thought a touchdown, because I knew I got beat," the junior defensive back said. "But my corner had my back. But I stepped in and had the jump at the highest point, like coach told me ... and got the pick."