PLANT CITY — After the game, Durant coach Mike Gottman could show with his two hands just how far the Cougars had to go in order to take what would have been their first lead against rival Plant City on Friday.
“We were struggling to move the ball, and I figured we needed to go that far to put the upper hand on it,” he said about his decision to go for the two-point conversion instead of the tying extra point with 5:21 left in the game.
But in the biggest play of the game — one the Raiders eventually won 14-13 — Plant City tackle Montel McBride was part of a goal-line stand against Kadarius Griffin that left Durant winless.
“Our defense is unbelievable,” Plant City running back Hassan Bailey said.
Just a few plays before, Durant’s Dontriel Perry blocked a punt. Demetrius Brown recovered, and the Cougars (0-4, 0-1 Class 7A, District 8) began their drive 8 yards from the end zone.
The Plant City defense made back-to-back stops, but quarterback Trey Van De Grift connected with Garrett Rentz for a 10-yard touchdown pass on third down.
Two offside penalties on the Raiders (3-0, 1-0) made the biggest decision of the night — whether to go for the tie or the lead — pretty easy for Gottman. With a half-yard to go, Plant City coach Wayne Ward was not surprised the Cougars lined up for the two-point conversion.
“I would have been surprised if they didn’t,” Ward said. “When we needed to make a play, when it counted, we made a play.”
Earlier in the night, those big plays kept slipping from the Raiders’ hands.
First-year Plant City quarterback Landon Galloway threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the first half. An 80-yard touchdown pass to Bailey on Plant City’s second drive of the night were the only points the Raiders had to show for 135 yards of offense in the first half.
“As long as there’s time on the clock, I still feel like we can win,” Ward said. “But penalties and mistakes we made … especially in a rivalry game like this, normally you don’t overcome those.”
A 44-yard touchdown dash from Durant fullback Kadarius Griffin tied the score before halftime. But after the break, Plant City got on the board again when Galloway connected with receiver Tavares Chase for a 16-yard touchdown with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
Plant City, which struggled offensively for the rest of the game, only moved the ball 19 yards after Chase’s touchdown. As the clock wound down, Durant had good field position and managed to drive down the field for a potentially winning score.
But once again, the Plant City defense stepped up in a time of need. With 59 seconds left, defensive end Sedrick King intercepted Van De Grift at midfield, and the Raiders held on for the win.
“We really wanted to eliminate (turnovers),” Gottman said. “We wanted to control the ball. We wanted to shorten the game, and we wanted to be in it.
“We just came up a bit short.”