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CLEARWATER — It’s an oft-repeated sequence for Countryside quarterback Jimbo Chmelik during games this season.
Take the snap from center.
Hand the ball to running back Alton Taylor.
Watch Taylor scamper through gaping holes for big yardage.
The Cougars have a reputation around Pinellas County as a team unafraid to put the ball in the air. But with Taylor, the county’s leading rusher, churning up more than 1,500 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground behind a mammoth offensive line that averages close to 300 pounds, that aerial assault has remained largely in the hangar.
Asked about the Cougars’ run-pass ratio this season, Chmelik joked: “It’s probably somewhere around 30-1.”
Not a lot of fun if you’re a quarterback used to slinging the ball all over the field. The results, however, speak for themselves. The Cougars are averaging more than 35 points a game and nearly 350 yards of total offense each week. They’ve also tied a school record with 10 wins and are 10-1 heading into Friday’s region semifinal at Tampa Bay Tech.
“If you really look at the offense, we’ve thrown the ball just about as much as we did last year,” Countryside coach John Davis said. “We’re right about 70-30 run right now. Last year, after 11 games, we were 67 percent run and 33 percent pass. We had thrown the ball 223 times at this time last year. This year we’re only at 157, but we’ve also won three more games than we did last year.”
One major reason for the Cougars’ reliance on the running game has been their ability to build early leads in nearly every game. According to Davis, the Cougars are outscoring opponents 153-27 in the first quarter.
“I think because we’ve had the lead, we’ve probably played it a little closer to the vest than we did last year,” Davis said. “There’s no sense taking chances and throwing the ball a lot. But also, we’ve got a pretty good running game. …We’ve always done well running the ball, but this year has been exceptional.”
Additionally, Countryside owns a plus-22 turnover ratio and has turned the ball over just nine times all year.
“Out of 405 runs this year, we’ve lost four fumbles,” Davis said. “When you’re doing that and you have less than one turnover a game, you’re going to win most of your games.”
According to Davis, TBT (9-1) has an extremely fast, aggressive defense that is the toughest Countryside has faced all season. No doubt, the Titans will sell out to try to slow down the Cougars’ ground game, which means Countryside’s dangerous receiving corps of Todd Shorter, Jalen Goodloe, Andre Holloway and Joe Lombardi could be unleased.
The Cougars have the ability to make plays in the passing game, they just haven’t had to yet.
“We do have a high-powered passing threat,” Chmelik said. “I think if we can keep a better run-pass balance, keep them on their toes, we can have a great game running and passing. And that way, Alton could maybe even have a better game if we can make some plays in the passing game.”
Of course, the Cougars will continue to ride their workhorse Taylor as far as he can carry them.
“The run game is good; nobody’s stopped it yet,” Goodloe said. “We’re winning games, so whatever it takes to win.”