Cotey column: Wilder all talk and no talent? Hardly

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Sat. December 4, 2010 | John C. Cotey | Email

 

TAMPA — His halftime speech, they say, was spectacular. It was moving and riveting and inspiring.

 

Walls shook. People shook.

 

John Few, Plant’s defensive coordinator, didn’t hear it. He was in the coaches’ office, trying to figure out how to overcome the deficit facing the Panthers.

 

But he felt it.

 

“He was on fire,” Few said. “He was doing something.”

 

Yep, senior star James Wilder Jr. can bark with the best of them, but it’s how he backs those words up that makes him truly special.

 

When he says he will carry you, he does.

 

When he says he will not let you lose, he doesn’t.

 

Friday night, he did exactly what everyone pretty much expected him to.

 

With quarterback Phillip Ely hurt and unable to play beyond one series, Wilder hoisted Plant onto his massive shoulders and carried the Panthers to a 21-13 victory.

 

“He said, I mean literally said, 'Put the team on my back and I won’t let you down,’ ” Plant coach Robert Weiner said. “He put his arm around me at halftime and said he wasn’t going to let us lose.”

 

Weiner has three state championships, and he has them because he has players like Wilder, who say things like I won’t let you lose.

 

“You can’t win without those kind of guys,” Weiner said.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, by the big showy play and the highlight reel run. He did it last year against Countryside, in the slop. He did it against Lakeland, at the Dreadnaughts’ storied little football field. He did it against Bradenton Manatee, in a state championship arena.

 

Nothing’s really changed. Not even the opponents.

 

Friday it was Countryside. Next week, the Panthers host Lakeland.

 

Manatee is lurking.

 

Line ’em up.

 

“I told him, one big play, give us one big play,” said big offensive lineman Tony Posada. “One big play and I knew we could win this game.”

 

That play was, well, familiar.

 

It was Wilder looking for room, then Wilder making room. It was a stiff arm, running through some arm tackles and speeding away into open space, right down the sideline to make it 21-13.

 

Countryside coach Jared Davis bemoaned his team’s tackling, and yes, it failed the Cougars.

 

But Wilder always leaves you like this, thinking it was because you didn’t tackle, when really, you couldn’t.

 

Not this guy. Not this time of time of year.

 

The playoffs,” he said, “that’s when you see the Wilder Beast come out. That’s when you see the Wilder Beast.”

 

The story Friday night seemed destined to be about the linebacker who plays running back, but for three quarters at Dads Stadium that guy was Countryside’s Terry Johnson.

 

He bailed the Cougars out against Boca Ciega and Lakewood and East Lake, and for a while, it looked like he was going to out-Wilder Wilder.

 

He ran for 12 yards on his first carry — in the second quarter — then added runs of 22 and 20 yards before tying the score.

 

Next series, another touchdown.

 

Halftime: Countryside 13-7.

 

The Cougars had their chances, mostly thanks to Johnson waking them up, to beat Plant.

 

They had opportunities to put the Panthers away in the second half, to force backup quarterback Nick Sanders to make plays.

 

But they got nothing off a six-minute drive to start the second half, they got nothing after blocking a Plant punt.

 

Countryside let the Panthers hang around too long.

 

“I was concerned,” Wilder said. “I think all my teammates were concerned.”

 

Then the Florida State-bound game changer, who had only 11 yards on 11 carries after the initial Plant drive ended with his first touchdown, picked up 56 yards on just four carries to put the Panthers back in front.

 

On the ensuing series, he scored for the third time, making sure not to leave this playoff game without that one signature play, one signature stiff arm.

 

When he says he will carry you, he does.

 

When he says he will not let you lose, he doesn’t.

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