ST. PETERSBURG — Countryside’s frustrating season came to a fittingly controversial end Friday night in a 37-7 win over St. Petersburg. After recovering a Green Devils fumble on the 8 with just over two minutes remaining, Countryside coaches ran all 24 seniors onto the field.
The Cougars were hit with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and when the game ended, St. Petersburg refused to shake hands with Countryside. The Cougars said it was done as a spur of the moment celebration for a season cut short.
“If they’re going to take our games away, then we’re going to show off and play our hardest and do something we’ll never forget,” senior defensive end Mike Love said. “That was just spur of the moment. I love all those seniors to death. They’re my family. We had to go hard in this last game.”
St. Petersburg and the officials saw it as something else. Green Devils coach Joe Fabrizio was diplomatic after the game but does plan on sending a tape of the incident to the FHSAA.
“I don’t know if it was supposed to happen or if it was instantaneous,” Fabrizio said. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. I just didn’t want anything stupid to happen on either side (after the game). I will say that I’ve been coaching a long time and never seen anything like it.”
Countryside (4-6) forfeited six games for using quarterback Christian Strong when he was ineligible. With Pinellas Park beating Seminole, the Cougars were shut out of a playoff spot.
So players said they treated Friday’s game as one last chance to play together. From the start, it was apparent Countryside came ready to play. On its fourth play, senior Ryan Yates threw a halfback pass to Marreio Taylor for a 17-yard touchdown.
On its next series, Countryside put together a 12-play drive that ended with a 42-yard field goal by Ryan Pandy. Then came a Yates run from 10 yards for a 15-0 lead. It grew to 22-0 when Michael Jerrido scored on a 14-yard run on the Cougars’ fourth series.
Meanwhile, Countryside’s defense stifled St. Petersburg (4-5). The Cougars allowed 42 total yards and 6 rushing. St. Petersburg’s only touchdown came near the end of the first half.
One player after Taylor was ejected for throwing a punch at a St. Petersburg player, Jake Moore intercepted a Robby Hicks pass at the 18 and scored to make it 22-7.
But on the last play of the half, Pandy kicked a 50-yard field goal to give Countryside a 25-7 lead.
Countryside continued to pour it on in the second half. Hicks hit A.J. Sattinger on a 9-yard touchdown late in the third. In the fourth, Yates scored on a 3-yard run.
Jerrido finished with 174 yards on 13 carries. Hicks threw for 156 yards and a touchdown.
“It was our senior night, and we had no choice but to end it with a bang,” Jerrido said. “I wanted to go out the best way I could. I didn’t want to be the dude who gets tackled in the backfield on every play in my last game.”
Countryside coach Jared Davis said he didn’t plan on having all the seniors run onto the field. He said it was just a way to say thank you to his senior class.
“It’s a great group of seniors. A lot of them have gone through three years of varsity football and lost one (regular-season) game — on the field anyway,” Davis said. “We owed it to them to play them the entire game. Our school is indebted to them.”
As for the season being over so soon?
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Davis said.