PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University needed everything to fall into place if it wanted to beat Countryside on Friday and keep hope alive.
It seemed as if things would work in the Hurricanes’ favor when the defense held against Countryside after a PHU fumble on the opening kickoff, forcing the Cougars to kick a field goal. Moments later, with the Cougars driving, Hunter Beam stepped in front of a pass from Countryside quarterback Gray Crow and returned it 100 yards to put the Hurricanes up 6-3. The point after was blocked.
But the game and the season came to a halt when the Hurricanes’ top two offensive players, quarterback Billy Pavlock and Kenny Blanch, were injured. Pavlock hurt his hand on the second play of Palm Harbor’s first offensive series, and Blanch re-injured his sprained ankle on a kickoff return that followed Countryside’s first touchdown.
While Pavlock moved to running back after Blanch’s injury and gave the Hurricanes most of their offense in the first half with 53 rushing yards, the PHU roster could not match the firepower of Countryside.
The Cougars built a 23-6 halftime lead on the way to a 43-12 victory to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“It’s too bad because it (the injuries to Pavlock and Blanch) completely changed our game plan, and we had to try and switch things up on the fly,” said Pavlock, who was pulled from the game early in the second half.
After Terry Johnson scored his second touchdown with a 27-yard run on Countryside’s first possession of the second half, the Cougars (8-0, 3-0) took advantage of Pavlock’s absence when Alex Dixon picked off Tyler Ruth’s pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown to put Countryside up 37-6.
“This was probably our most complete game of the year, but we know we still can play much better, and we’re striving to do that,” said Crow, who went 13 of 16 for 226 yards.
“Our defense played phenomenal, and our offense was outstanding.”