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CLEARWATER — East Lake strutted into Friday night’s game with heightened hubris, primed to wrestle control of county supremacy from Countryside. All those years in the shadow of the Cougars, all those seasons of expectations unfilled in this heated rivalry, all that was supposed to end.
Instead, Countryside was Countryside. The offensive line was overpowering. The running backs were solid. The defense did just enough.
For the 11th time in the past 12 seasons, Countryside prevailed in this series, 27-14.
“We had to play through some adversity, and stick to our recipe that has been successful for us,” Cougars coach Jared Davis said. “And that recipe is being physical. We had a huge night from our running backs and our offensive line was great. Sure, we’d like to throw the ball a little bit more, but you have to stick with what’s working.”
On their first drive, Countryside (2-0) made an emphatic statement. The Cougars went on a 13-play drive, 10 of which were runs. Mike Jerrido capped it with a 3-yard for a touchdown to give Countryside a 7-0 lead.
The game was a contrast of offensive styles. East Lake relied on the pass. And Eagles quarterback Pete DiNovo delivered, scrambling to find enough time on a drive in the second quarter that kept his team in the game. The biggest play came on third down in Cougars territory. DiNovo ran to his right and found tight end Dillon Zettwuch on a 20-yard pass to tie the game.
DiNovo was sharp, hitting five receivers. And he did it without his favorite target, Artavis Scott, who was hobbled by a sprained ankle this week and came in for one play Friday night.
Trouble was, the Eagles had no answer for Countryside’s run game. In the first half, the Cougars ran for 186 yards. If it wasn’t Jerrido running around the end, it was Ryan Yates up the middle. That allowed Countryside take control as Ryan Pandy hit a 28-yard field goal and Yates ran for a 10-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 17-7 halftime lead.
“We wanted to just keep running the ball and be physical,” said Yates, who finished with 133 yards rushing. “We knew if we kept doing that, they would fold on defense.”
Countryside added to its lead with a 27-yard field goal by Pandy to make it 20-7.
Still, the Eagles wouldn’t go away. DiNovo hit George Campbell on a 76-yard pass for a touchdown in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 20-14.
East Lake (1-1) forced a punt and drove into Cougars territory in the fourth quarter. But the Eagles’ second fourth-down attempt on the drive was stuffed.
Countryside then went back to its running game, chewing up yards — and the clock. Yates finished things off with 4-yard run up the middle for the final score.
In all, the Cougars finished with 334 yards rushing. Yates and Jerrido (172 yards) each rushed for more than 100.
All week, factors seemed to point in the Eagles’ favor. After all, they dominated Clearwater Central Catholic in the second half of last week’s victory and had come close to knocking off Countryside last year.
But East Lake’s defense was not able to stop the Cougars’ ground game when it counted.