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PLANT CITY — When it comes to game film, Gaither quarterback Alex McGough can’t get enough.
“I watch it during lunch,” said McGough, a sophomore who transferred from Wesley Chapel this season. “I watch it at my house, I have a copy, and I just try to get as much time as I can in to be prepared.”
When looking at the pass defense of the Cowboys’ first-round opponent, Durant, McGough likes what he sees. The Cougars (7-3), winner of Class 7A, District 8, have allowed the past six opposing quarterbacks to throw for about 100 yards more than they averaged against other teams.
“When you go up against a team that’s been struggling like that, you really, like, get a grin,” said McGough, who has thrown for 70 yards a game this season with 11 touchdowns. “Because you know that you can have a big day and really help your team win and advance in the playoffs.”
Gaither coach Jason Stokes said the game will come down to Durant stopping McGough and the passing attack and his team’s ability to stop the Cougars’ running game, which averages 277 yards. Durant will likely be without leading rusher Jamarlon Hamilton (1,038 yards) and starting halfback Zach Hooper.
But what can you do to address a known weakness at this point in the season?
“Not much,” Durant coach Mike Gottman said. “We can work to make our route recognition better, break on the ball better, but we are who we are. We still have the same guys so we can just try to improve what we have.”
The defensive backs were doing just that Wednesday afternoon, practicing in helmets and shoulder pads and trying to stick with other players running receiving routes as directed by Gottman. The Cougars’ zone defense requires players communicate with each other, another point of emphasis.
“We just have to read our keys right,” said senior cornerback and kick returner Mike Stephens, “and know when it’s a pass so we can give our safeties time to get over the top and make a play.”
Durant’s focus, though, will be on trying to force Gaither (7-3), runnerup in 7A-7, to become one-dimensional. The Cougars have allowed only one opponent to gain more rushing yards than its season average, and that came in a 63-12 blowout win over Riverview.
This week, their efforts will be focused on containing junior Shug Oyegunle, who lined up at quarterback for Gaither last season but is this year’s leading rusher with 481 yards and five touchdowns. On the year, the Cowboys have run the ball on 63 percent of their offensive plays.
“If the quarterback beats us,” Gottman said, “so be it.”
Cause for concern
School QB vs. Durant vs. the rest result record
Freedom Jon Economou 78 yards 37 37-0 W (2-8)
Alonso Brandon Hawkins 71 103 26-5 L (6-4)
Brandon Alan Knippel 23 70 36-24 W (5-5)
Wharton Chase Litton 130 194 41-21 W (5-5)
Plant City Bennie Coney 366 226 43-12 L (7-3)
Chamberlain Josh Bennett 163 52 50-29 W (1-9)
Newsome Will Worth 208 80 33-14 W (6-4)
East Bay Tajee Fullwood 211 48 45-28 W (4-6)
Riverview Chase Freeman 61 18 63-12 W (1-9)
King Greg Windham 240 229 28-20 L (4-6)
Total 155.1 105.7