PLANT CITY — Cornerback Ricardo Rodriguez had heard the song before.
“I’m used to getting picked on because I’m a shorter corner,” Rodriguez, generously listed as 5 feet 7 in the Wolves’ program, said. “But I play pretty big.”
Rodriguez certainly came up plenty big Friday night, batting away a pass on the potential tying touchdown as time expired to help visiting Newsome knock off previously unbeaten Durant 21-14.
The Wolves, who lost their first three games of the season, avenged a 38-28 loss to the Cougars Oct. 18.
Newsome will face Kissimmee Osceola next Friday in the 7A region final.
“We played the hardest schedule in Hillsborough County,” Wolves lineman Bentley Easley said. “But I had no doubt we’d get here.”
With the score tied at 14 midway through the fourth quarter, Austin Cobb set up for a 21-yard field goal. He connected, but Durant was flagged for roughing the kicker.
That gave Newsome (8-4) a first down at the 2-yard line and Clint Carnell, who ran for a game-high 109 yards, burst up the middle for a TD on the next play for a 21-14 lead.
“Clint Carnell,” Newsome quarterback Will Worth said, “was an absolute beast tonight.”
On the ensuing possession, Durant (11-1) reached its 46-yard line but a mishandled exchange resulted in a fumble and Easley pounced on it with 4:44 to play.
“It looked like a big old hamburger laying there,” Easley said.
Newsome appeared poised to put the game away but Durant’s Terry Grimsley recovered a fumble at the Cougars’ 1-yard line with 1:35 to play. Durant drove down to the Wolves’ 15-yard line with three seconds left. Then with no safety over the top to help, Rodriguez went up high to bat away a pass from 6-3 wideout Corey Roberts to seal the win.
“All I could think about on that last play was all the work we had put in up to that point,” Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t let (the team) down.”
Worth was 8-of-11 for 111 yards and a touchdown and had 101 yards rushing.