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PINELLAS PARK — Following a tumultuous week in which Countryside found out it would have to forfeit its first six games and would lose its starting quarterback after Christian Strong was ruled ineligible by the FHSAA, the Cougars faced more bad news by trailing 7-0 at halftime Friday at Pinellas Park.
A loss would eliminate the defending district champion Cougars from playoff consideration, breaking a four-year run of postseason play.
Countryside had 24 minutes to save its season, and the Cougars responded with perhaps its best half this year.
Aided by Pinellas Park’s fumble on the second half’s opening kickoff, Countryside scored 23 unanswered points to defeat the Patriots 23-7 and keep alive its slim playoff hopes.
“We had a lot on our minds, but our coach just taught us that we have to face adversity at some time,” Countryside senior running back Mike Jerrido said. “This was the night where we had to do it. … We faced it pretty well.”
Jerrido put the Cougars on the scoreboard early in the second half after that fumbled kickoff. From the Patriots 22, he needed just two touches to reach the end zone, rushing in from 13 yards to tie the score at 7.
Cougars kicker Ryan Pandy, who was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts despite a swirling wind, gave his team the lead for good with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter after hitting a 40-yarder with plenty of room to spare.
On the Cougars’ next drive, Jerrido raced 45 yards down the sideline to the Pinellas Park 9. Two plays later, he plunged into the end zone for his second touchdown and a 17-7 Countryside advantage.
“We just had to settle down and execute better,” Countryside coach Jared Davis said.
Pandy added field goals of 32 and 35 yards in the fourth quarter. Countryside held Pinellas Park to 74 yards of total offense and four first downs in the second half.
“I thought our guys played with extreme passion and purpose,” Davis said. “To keep that team off the scoreboard in the second half was huge.”
Pinellas Park (5-3, 3-1) held the Cougars to a three-and-out on their first drive of the game, then marched 94 yards in 12 plays, culminated by a tough, 5-yard run into the end zone by Garret Nevitt. The Patriots’ defense kept Countryside (3-6, 2-2) frustrated in the first half. Pierre Johnson and Jalil Crapps each intercepted Cougars quarterback Robby Hicks, and the Patriots also forced a turnover on downs.
“We came out real flat,” said Jerrido, who had 77 yards on eight carries. “I think we were playing at their game level. We didn’t play Countryside football.”