Monday night, Tampa Bay Tech coach C.C. Culpepper did something he hasn’t ever done before — he watched last year’s loss to Countryside in the playoffs, a stunning 47-20 beatdown.
He saw the blocked field-goal attempt give Countryside another chance on the first drive.
He watched the crucial fumble near the end of the first half.
And he probably shifted uncomfortably in his seat watching the Cougars convert third down after third down.
“Every one of them,” he said, shaking his head.
He didn’t need a DVD to remind him of any of that, not with his own competitive fire refusing to let him forget.
Or the fans, for that matter, badgering away. Even his 8-year-old son Josh reminded him recently.
Culpepper watched last year’s loss because he was looking for something, anything that might help in Friday’s rematch.
“I think last year we knew we were loaded and figured we’d beat Countryside,” said Culpepper, whose Titans had staged one of the more dramatic rallies in county history in the season opener and beaten Plant, which would have been their next round opponent.
“We looked more forward to that rematch with Plant than we did playing Countryside. Maybe I let the kids get too caught up in that.”
This week, there is no mention of Plant.
“I’m thankful we get another shot,” said senior quarterback Jonathon Williams. “We were upset last year.”
The Titans lost 23 seniors from that team, the best in school history, including all-time leading rusher Maurice Hagens. They were expected to struggle. Their district superiority was threatened by Brandon.
But the one constant, a hard-hitting and fierce defense, has been unyielding.
The Titans have only given up more than two touchdowns in a game to two teams, Armwood and Wharton. Three of their four losses have been by 10-0, 9-7 and 14-13 scores.
Kadesh Reaves has been an immovable force in the middle, Garian Brown moved from cornerback to strong safety and has been excellent, and Devontae McCloud, playing both ways, had 11 tackles last week in a 14-10 win over East Lake.
Offensively, though, TBT continues to struggle scoring points. But after playing a freshman, first-year starter and junior varsity callup in his backfield for a few weeks while his starters healed from injuries, Culpepper feels his team is finally at full strength and ready to test the Cougars’ mettle.
“We get 11 hats to the ball,” Culpepper said. “We like to run the football and play defense. We’re old-fashioned. We’re not looking for pretty games. We know who we are, and that’s what we are, and that is what we’ll be until someone comes knocking on my door and says, ‘Culpepper, time for you to go.’ ”
Considering Culpepper inherited a program mired in losing (consecutive 0-10 seasons when he was hired) and is now in the playoffs for the second straight year, that seems highly unlikely.
Still, in a county where three teams — Armwood, Jefferson and Jesuit — are undefeated and a few others like Plant, Robinson and Berkeley Prep are expected to make a run at state titles, apparently a 7-4 record isn’t worth what it used to be.
“People keep saying we’re down,” Culpepper said. “I remember when I walked in here — that was down, 0-27 was down. Now we’re 6-4 and people are looking at you sideways. But this is one of most talented teams we’ve had here.”
Culpepper knows that playoff victories speak the loudest, and one over Countryside, an 11-0 team, would be resounding.
Ultimately, the Titans will have to win in the playoffs, beat a team with a flashier record like Countryside, knock off a county power like, say, that team that is not to be mentioned this week, though it lurks as a potential opponent for next week.
Maybe, Culpepper says, that happens with a team you don’t expect it from.
Maybe, it happens now.
“We’re definitely prepared for what’s in front of us, we’re not saving anything,” he said. “Every cleat, every spike we got we used this week. Every pack of Gatorade is on the bus, every penny in the booster account is going to feed the kids a nice meal and for getting a charter bus.
“We’ll take the yellow bus or hitchhike or take my truck and do like a Little League team and dress there. Next week, we’ll worry about next week.”