Catholic running back Manta Purifoy watched his friend Jaylen Fortune go down with a catastrophic knee injury Friday night.
Unshaken, he responded in a big way with three touchdown runs in Catholic’s first win of the season, a 28-7 victory at Milton (2-2) on Friday night.
“That was like my best friend that got hurt,” Purifoy said. “It just made me fight even harder out there.”
The Crusaders (1-3), fresh off a heartbreaking loss to Escambia last week, are no stranger to season-ending injuries.
Starting running back Abram Smiley tore his MCL in a loss to Gulf Breeze and starting offensive lineman suffered a season-ending UCL injury in his elbow in the same game.
“It’s horrible to see the guys go down that did go down,” starting quarterback Garrett Foley said. “My boy Jaylen, I’m so proud of him. And it just gave us so much motivation to go out and get that win for him.”
Catholic let Aubrey Williams and the Milton offense open the scoring with a long touchdown drive, but the Crusaders locked it down the rest of the way, limiting the Panthers to 164 yards of total offense and scoring 28 unanswered points to close out the game.
“The character of these kids is tremendous,” Seibert said. “…We looked at the film this week and corrected some mistakes, but tried to focus on what we did well to build and put one foot in front of the other for the next one.”
Foley hit wide receiver AJ Yates on a corner route in the end zone to tie things in the first quarter before Purifoy went to work on the ground.
Purifoy’s first score ended with a dive into the end zone midway through the second quarter. His second came with just 16 seconds left in the first half and likely proved to be the dagger for a Milton team unable to generate any kind of offensive rhythm.
Once far from the top of the depth chart, Purifoy figures to be an integral part of the Catholic offense moving forward. And on a night when his team desperately needed a win, he delivered, churning out tough yards as part of a Catholic rushing attack that totaled 150 yards.
“He carried the load for us and did what we asked him to do,” Seibert said. “We do everything for each other. That’s what Catholic High School is all about.”
Saddened by the loss of Fortune but rejuvenated by a much-needed win, the Crusaders are putting their 0-3 start behind them. Mentally, they’re ready to move to 2-0 next week against Pensacola High.
“This is why we do what we do to put them in a position to be successful,” Seibert said. “They answered the call tonight.”