GIBSONTON—Above the East Bay locker room door is a spray-painted slogan that each player taps as he takes the field. The same two words are also on a written on a white sticker on the back of each player’s helmet.
“It’s been very different (this season),” said first-year head coach Frank LaRosa. “The attitudes have been different, the kids are excited. These close games and some of our early season wins have really pulled these guys together to keep this going.”
Virtually no one would have predicted that the Indians, coming off a one-win campaign last year, would even have a shot to play spoiler in Class 7A-8 and sneak into the playoffs. But that’s the position East Bay (3-4, 1-2) finds itself in as it prepares to take on second-place Durant (5-2, 2-1) Friday night.
It’s true that the Indians have only beaten last-place Riverview so far in district play. But a 43-36 loss to undefeated district leader Plant City, in which the Raiders notched the game winning score in the game’s last minute, may have given pause to other teams counting the East Bay game as a sure-fire win.
“We felt like, ‘here, guys, this is your stage,” LaRosa said of last week’s game. “‘Show the county what we’ve got going on. If we play to the best of our ability, we at least give ourselves a chance to win.’”
The Indians have given themselves that chance for a victory in almost every game this season. Against Plant City, East Bay rallied from a 36-20 hole to tie the game with five minutes remaining. And in their 28-26 week three win over Bloomingdale, a game LaRosa said gave his team confidence to keep fighting, senior captain Kieran Pettus forced a Bloomingdale fumble on the Indians’ 1-yard line in the game’s final minute.
All the tight-game experience has the Indians believing they can go “all in” and pull off an improbable run to the playoffs.
“One of my teammates (senior linebacker Demetri Green), came up to me in school and said, ‘we’re going to the playoffs, we’re going to the playoffs,’ and I didn’t believe it,” quarterback Tajee Fullwood said. “But I feel like if I can believe it, I can achieve it.”
To continue the dream, though, East Bay must beat Durant Friday. That’s easier said than done considering the two staffs are rather familiar with one another’s game plans (Cougars head coach Mike Gottman was once the defensive coordinator under LaRosa’s predecessor, Brian Thornton, at East Bay). But if the Indians execute like they did last week, an upset is certainly within the realm of possibilities.
“We just have to match their physical play. They’re going to be big, they’re going to be physical,” said LaRosa. “If we match them as far as playing physical, sound, disciplined football, again, it’s another Friday where anything could happen.”