CLEARWATER — The Countryside High players talked all week about how they were going to have to be physical, how they were going to have to win the battle up front to beat Tampa Bay Tech for the second straight season in the Class 5A region semifinals.
But the turning point in Friday’s game did not come on some long, clock-eating drive in which the Cougars mashed the ball behind their mammoth offensive line.
Instead, it came with a quick pass.
With the game tied at 14 in the third quarter, Countryside quarterback Grey Crow threw a slant to Nico Morgado, who then put a move on a defender and slashed across the field, a bewildered defense in tow as he raced 94 yards for a touchdown.
The Cougars recovered an onside kick and scored three minutes later. That was enough to hold on for a 34-21 victory.
Countryside (12-0) will travel to play Plant (10-2) in the 5A region final.
“We challenged the offense that they were going to get more than two scores against a defense like this,” Countryside coach Jared Davis said. “That touchdown on that slant was a big play and got things going in our favor.”
At the start, it was the Cougars’ ground game that got them going as they called five straight running plays on a 72-yard drive, capped by Terry Johnson’s 19-yard run to make it 7-0.
The Titans (8-4) countered in the second quarter as they converted two fourth downs to keep a 73-yard drive alive and scored on Devontae McCloud’s 24-yard run to tie the game.
Late in the quarter, Crow threw a 19-yard pass that was initially tipped by a Tampa Bay Tech before falling into A.J. Sattinger’s hands for a touchdown to give the Cougars a 14-7 halftime lead.
The Titans, known for keeping games close, started the third quarter by going on 77-yard scoring drive that was capped by McCloud’s second touchdown of the night on a 30-yard run to make it 14-all.
That seemed to give Tampa Bay Tech momentum as its defense had Countryside pinned at its 6-yard line and facing third and long.
That’s when Crow and Morgado hooked up for their big play.
“That play changed the game,” Titans coach C.C. Culpepper said. “Our defensive back broke on the ball and missed and their receiver went a long way.”
Even Crow was amazed by how many yards the play covered.
“It went 94 yards?” Crow said. “Wow. I didn’t even know that.”
The Cougars took a gamble by squibbing the ensuing kick. The ball ricocheted off a Tampa Bay Tech player and Countryside recovered. Six plays later, Diomi Roberts scored on a 24-yard run to make it 28-14.
Sticking with its option-based run game, the Titans crept along for another score as quarterback Jonathon Williams ran 3 yards for a touchdown to cut it to 28-21.
Countryside, though, sealed the game as Roberts scored his second touchdown on a 24-yard run to put the Cougars ahead 34-21.
Roberts high-stepped his way to the end zone, drawing a penalty for excessive celebration. It was Roberts’ second personal foul in the game and he was ejected. It is uncertain whether he will be able to play in next week’s game against Plant.