Gary Shelton - 5/180 - SaintPetersBlog

Gary Shelton

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

In his one day in charge, T.J. Weist hopes to lead USF to win

The last coach is looking over one shoulder.

The next coach is looking over the other.

But for today, at least, the USF Bulls are under the charge of T.J. Weist. How they respond will be the question of the day.

The Bulls play against South Carolina today (2 p.m.) in the Birmingham Bowl, and everyone would seem to have a goal. Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack want to keep the electric offense going. Auggie Sanchez wants to make the defense better. And Weist, in a way, is auditioning for work.

“We want to win 11, obviously, and set the record,” said Weist, who also has experience as an interim coach. He coached Connecticut for the final eight games of the 2013 season after Paul Pasqualoni was fired as coach. Bob Diaco was hired as the Huskies’ coach after that season, and he was fired Monday.

There has been no early word on the coaching staff of new coach Charlie Strong, and former coach Willie Taggart hasn’t completed his staff at Oregon. That means that good things could happen for Weist if the team produces today.

“Our team is hungry,” Weist said. “We want to play a physical game on both sides of the ball and make sound decisions.”

USF would seem to be in decent shape to score points. The Bulls have the ninth-rated offense in America, and they’ll be going against the 62nd ranked defense. South Carolina’s own offense is raned only 118th in the country.

Flowers leads the Bulls and hopes to put himself into the conversation for awards next season.

Against South Caroline, USF is a solid favorite (10 1/2 points) over an SEC opponent.

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Rowdies add 22-year-old forward Alex Morrell to its roster

After re-signing the core of its team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies have reached out for a new face.

Alex Morrell, 22, has signed with the Rowdies. The forward is from Lakeland.

Morrell spent most of last season in the MLS, playing for the Chicago Fire. He spent part of last season on loan to St. Louis.

“We’re excited to sign a young player of Alex’s quality,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “He spent last year in MLS learning from experienced coaches and players and now he’s ready to make the next step. We look forward to seeing him develop and make an impact here with the Rowdies.”

The Fire selected Morrell 22nd overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. He made four appearances for Chicago in his first professional season, logging 56 minutes. Morrell was loaned to Saint Louis in August and played in two USL matches.

Morrell is the 12th member of the Rowdies’ 2017 roster, which opens preseason play January 8 against Germany’s VfL Wolfsburg in the Florida Cup.

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Triplets lead Lightning’s huge comeback against Montreal

Hey, didn’t you used to be The Triplets?

Frankly, it’s good to see you again.

The Triplets – the Tampa Bay Lightning’s line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, couldn’t have picked a better time to show back up Wednesday night. At the time, it was the third period, and the Bolts trailed the Montreal Canadiens 3-1, and Carey Price was in goal.

None of it mattered. The Bolts charged from behind to win, 4-1. Johnson scored twice. Palat and Victor Hedman also scored for Tampa Bay.

Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Chris Terry scored for the Canadiens, who have lost three in a row. Price had 26 saves.

Tampa Bay is home tonight against Toronto.

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Miami finally wins a bowl game, beating West Virginia in Russell

If Brad Kaaya is leaving the University of Miami for the NFL, he went out with style Wednesday night.

Kaaya threw for 282 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Hurricanes to a 31-14 victory over 13th-ranked West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. It was Miami’s first win in 10 years, and seven bowls.

Kaaya, the game MVP, hit 24 of 34 pass attempts. Kaaya already held Miami’s career record in yards and took over the school’s No. 1 spots in completions and attempts.

“It’s awesome,” said Miami coach Mark Richt. You know, I’m really hoping we can end up in the top 25. I know it’s up the voters. We played a great football team and played them well. I’m hoping we can finish there, too,” Richt told ESPN immediately after the game ended. “Bottom line is these guys played their tails off for us and for each other and we’re real proud of them.”

West Virginia took a 7-0 lead in the first period on a run by Kennedy McCoy. After that, Kaaya took over. He hit Ammon Richards, Malcolm Lewis and Braxton Berrios  for touchdowns in the final 6:30 of the first half to get Miami rolling, and then found David Njoku for another touchdown on the first possession of the second half.

The Hurricanes, who conquered their highest-ranked opponent since beating No. 12 Florida in September 2013, had not won five straight games to close out a season since their 2011 national championship campaign.

The Mountaineers’ only previous losses this season were to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. They dropped to 10-3.

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Drug violation led to the benching of Bucs’ back Doug Martin

The unexplained benching of Tampa Bay Bucs running back Doug Martin cleared up Wednesday afternoon.

Martin announced he is serving a four-game suspension for performing enhancing drugs.

“I was notified last week of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy,” Martin said in a statement. “My initial instinct was to appeal the suspension and finish the season with my teammates. However, after numerous discussions with people close to me – including Coach (Dirk) Koetter – I am starting the suspension immediately so I can enter a treatment facility and receive the help I truly need.

 “On the field, I must be strong and determined to push through both pain and injuries to become an elite NFL running back. Off the field, I have tried that same approach in my personal life. My shortcomings in this area have taught me both that I cannot win these personal battles alone and that there is no shame in asking for help.

 “I sincerely apologize to the Glazer family, General Manager Jason Licht and the entire Tampa Bay organization, my teammates and our tremendous fans. This was not the season I envisioned and I have let everyone down, including myself. However, adversity yields opportunity and I ask for your support in my battle to overcome these personal issues.”

 General manager Licht, also in a statement, said his team supports Martin, although his suspension happened at a time the Bucs were pushing toward the playoffs.

“Doug has been a valued member of our organization for the past five seasons and we respect and support his decision to seek help,” Licht said. “Right now, he is working through issues that are much larger than the game of football. Our primary concern is that he takes this time to focus on getting the help that he needs in order to move forward with his personal and professional life.”

The Bucs still have a small playoff hope, but in all probability will end their season Sunday.

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Miami hopes to snap losing streak in bowls against West Virginia

Time was, the Miami Hurricanes rang in the New Year.

You didn’t want to mess with the ‘Canes in a bowl game. Ask Florida. Ask Nebraska. Ask Alabama. Miami won five in a row from 1988-1992. They won six of seven from 1996-2004. In those years, Miami was pretty good most of the time, but they seemed to save their best for last.

But not anymore.

As Miami prepares to play against a good West Virginia team in today’s Russell Athletic Bowl, the Canes have lost seven straight games over 10 seasons The last one they won was back in 2006, when tthey triumphed in something called the GMAC Computers Bowl. They beat Nevada…by one point.

“I can’t lose no more bowl games,’’ Chad Thomas, tied for the team lead with 10.5 tackles for loss, told the Miami Herald. “I’ve got to do it for our seniors right now.”

Demetrious Jackson told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel: Ten years without a bowl win, that’s not what ‘The U’ is about. It’s going to turn around, and we’re going to look to turn it around Wednesday. … Everyone is pushing everyone harder so we can end that streak, so we can snap that streak.”

Miami’s most recent defeats were against Washington State last year and Louisville the year before.

“I feel like a win could really reprogram this football program, and I feel like it’ll be good for recruits,” said redshirt senior Rayshawn Jenkins.

The Mountaineers won’t be easy. They’re headed toward their 11th win with the nation’s No. 12-ranked offense. Quarterback Skyler Howard, who has thrown for 3,194 yards and 26 touchdowns while running for another 569 yards and nine scores, drives the offense. Running back Justin Crawford has rushed for 1,168 yards during the regular season.

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya agreed that the game was big for the ‘Canes.

“It means a lot to me,” Kaaya said. “At this school, to not win a bowl game in 10 years is a huge deal. That should be the focus of everyone right now. It’s the focus of everything that we’re doing and all the other stuff, the distractions, we’ll sort it out later. Right now, we have to win and just really finish strong and finish the way that we should.”

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Could FSU ride its momentum to win in Orange Bowl game?

Before you convince yourself how big a favorite sixth-ranked Michigan is over FSU in Friday night’s Orange Bowl, perhaps you should re-consider the last month.

You know, when FSU was 4-0.

You know, when Michigan was 2-2.

Perhaps more things than momentum will matter when the two clash. But FSU has played its best football, especially on defense. Michigan has played well, too, especially in a double-overtime loss to Ohio State, but still, the Wolverines have lost two games in late November.

Still, Michigan ranks as the second-stingiest defense in America, behind Alabama, which is going to make it tough for FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Deondre Francois. FSU has climbed up to a respectable 29th in defense, but tough games against Louisville, USF and Clemson still hold the Seminoles down some.

One of the things that gives hope to FSU is the steady progression of quarterback Francois, only a freshman. He leads the Seminoles’ 24th-ranked offense (Michigan is 46th).

“To be honest with you, when Deondre came in and played, it was just as if he was an experienced quarterback,” FSU wide receiver Travis Rudolph told the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I mean, you guys probably think, ‘Oh, he’s just a redshirt freshman,’ but I feel like he played at the level of a junior or a senior.”

Francois came into the season wanting to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches.

“(I wanted) to become a better player each week,” Francois said.

“Just to grow. On the field and off the field. Basically, to get my teammates to trust me, to become a better leader, and just fight for my team.

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Mississippi State beats Miami on PAT block in St. Petersburg Bowl

It might not have been one of the premier bowl games of the season, but the St. Petersburg Bowl delivered on drama Monday afternoon.

Nelson Adams blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt by Miami of Ohio’s Nick Dowd, preserving a 17-16 victory by Mississippi State. It ended a six-game winning streak by Miami and left the Redhawks 6-7 on the season. Mississippi State finished 6-7 as well, making it a rare bowl game where both teams left with losing records.

Mississippi State quarterback combined for 268 yards: 136 passing and 132 rushing.

Quarterback Gus Ragland threw for 263 yards and two scores to lead the Redhawks.

Receiver James Gardner, from Fort Lauderdale, caught five passes for 92 yards.

Mississippi State had a chance to kick another field goal late in the game, but went for it (and failed) on fourth and four. “I guess I don’t look as dumb as I could have looked,” said coach Dan Mullen.

Earlier in the game, Miami had gone for a fourth-and-13, but Ragland threw an interception. Ragland had thrown for 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in the team’s final six games.

The Bulldogs had only 48 yards in the first half and only 141 after a half.

“You continue to grind, you continue to work, you’re going to have success in life,” Mullen said.

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Bucs lose again, see their playoff hopes fade to a whisper

Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Bucs seemed headed for the playoffs in one of those magical turn-around seasons.

Now, they’ve turned back around, and it will take the right combination of results for them even to get into the post-season.

The Bucs dropped a 31-24 game to the New Orleans Saints that left them on the verge on missing the playoffs. Tampa Bay, which lost the NFC South division race with the loss, still have a ghost of a chance, but nothing more, next week against Carolina.

Tampa Bay did not play running back Doug Martin, who was second in the NFL in rushing, choosing instead to go with backup Jacquizz Rodgers.

Drew Brees, who threw three interceptions against Tampa Bay two weeks ago, threw none. He had 299 yards passing to lead the Saints to their victory.

“We played hard,” said Koetter. “We played hard enough, we just didn’t play good enough today. The turnovers [were critical], as it is in many games, those two turnovers led to two touchdowns and we didn’t get any the other way. When you have two turnovers like that lead to 14 quick points against a quarterback like they have, it’s just going to be tough sledding if you don’t take it away on the other end.”

Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston threw for 277 yards, but he had two costly interceptions.

“We couldn’t get as much pressure on him as we did in the first game,” said Koetter. “They ran the ball better than they did in the first game. I think we missed Will Gholston today in the run game. Even though we had two sacks, we pressured them consistently in the last game. I thought a combination of us running by him and him doing a really good job of stepping up – he stepped up through our rush and made plays after stepping up in the pocket that hurt us today.”

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Tampa Bay Lightning shut out in lopsided loss to Washington

And then, nothing.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, which had appeared to be pulling out of its swoon with back-to-back wins were clobbered Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the Washington Caps.

Tampa Bay gave up two goals in the first period, and got off only two shots, in their latest defeat. John Carlson scored the Caps’ first two goals, including the first with only 55 seconds gone in the game.

Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson later scored goals for Washington.

It was Ovechkin’s 15th goal of the season.

“Ultimately, you circle this one on the calendar as, ‘OK, this is one we’re going to have to game out,’ because we were playing three (games) in four (days), it’s a tough travel night for us, getting in at three in the morning and turn around and have to play an exceptional team like Washington,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But what made it was worse was first shift getting scored on. That was a little bit of a deflator right there.

“They got the 2-0 lead, and the irony of the whole thing, we only gave them four shots in the last 15 minutes of that first period. So, as ugly as it looks, they did all their damage in the first four minutes and that kind of changed the game. The kicker there was when we didn’t score in that first five minutes of the second (period). We were all over them, and, we needed that next goal. Ultimately, they weathered that storm, got the third one and that was it.”

Braden Holtby stopped 23 shutouts for his 26th career shutout.

For the Bolts, Jonathan Drouin and Braydon Coburn left and did not return. Andrei Vasilevskiy was pulled in the third period and left.

“I think we’ve been doing a good job coming back, but it’s hard to do it that many times,” defenseman Anton Stralman said. “We’ve put ourselves in big holes way too many times this season and sometimes we manage to come back like last night but we just didn’t have it. That first period, that was a tough period. We didn’t execute anything in our game plan really. They score two goals; we have two shots. That kind of sums it up.”

 The Lightning plays Montreal at home on Wednesday night.

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