Countryside and Largo are the premier programs in the county. Together, they have 14 playoff appearances in the past decade and are the only public school teams in Pinellas County that have been to the region finals more than once during that span. Tonight, they knock heads in a nondistrict game.
The Packers lead the series 15-13, but neither team has won more than three straight. From 2005-08, Largo was the dominant team in the county, winning three against the Cougars, including a playoff game in ’08. The balance of power shifted in ’09 when Countryside broke through. The Cougars went on to win the next two and could become the first to win four in a row tonight.
Countryside also is trying to keep its 27-game regular-season win streak intact. If the Cougars beat Largo, they have a good shot at finishing the regular season undefeated for the third straight year. There’s motivation for the Packers, especially seniors like quarterback Juwan Brown and linebackers Harry Brown and Derrick Doss, who have yet to beat Countryside in their careers.
The difference the past three years has been the play in the trenches. The Cougars’ offensive line is a big reason for their recent success. Despite graduating Division I talent year after year, Countryside is able to find big bodies to fill in the holes. This year’s line returns four starters, including Brandon Pertile.
In the first two games of 2012, the Cougars are averaging nearly 300 yards rushing per game. Countryside’s defensive line, led by Times’ 2011 player of the year Mike Love, has been dominant, too.
Largo, meanwhile, has graduated every starter on the defensive line and return just one starter on the O-line. Still, the Packers’ defense has been tough, allowing eight points per game. If the Cougars get their ground game going early, it will be tough for Largo to come back.
If the game comes down to a field goal, the Cougars have a clear advantage. Countryside kicker Ryan Pandy is among the best in the state and has already hit three field goals this year. He also sends nearly every kickoff out of the end zone, eliminating any chance of return.
That’s big considering Largo’s Derrick Doss had five returns for scores last year. The Packers are hurting in the kicking game after losing Morgan Sever to academic issues before the season.
Largo’s Juwan Brown has played in two of the past three meetings (he was injured in 2010) and has thrown for more than 150 yards each time. This year, he is off to his best start with more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games.
The Packers are showing more balance and allowing Brown to be more of a playmaker. He showed he can deliver, rallying Largo with a last-minute touchdown to beat Bradenton Southeast in the season opener.
Countryside’s defense has been solid but all three touchdowns allowed this season have come via the pass. If Brown can throw for a few touchdowns, and get some early, he can force the Cougars to play from behind, which would nullify the effectiveness of their ground game.
Did you know?
Countryside’s Jared Davis is undefeated as a coach against Largo but never beat the Packers as player.
What they’re saying
“Largo is athletic everywhere and plays with a lot of tenacity. We need to be efficient on offense, and our defense needs to make them earn everything and not give up the big play.” — Davis
“We have to play with a lot of heart, and we have to stop Countryside’s run game. They have a real big offensive line and that’s their biggest weapon.” — Largo running back/linebacker Harry Brown