PLANT CITY — Even a year later, the memories from that four-quarter embarrassment at Raider Stadium are still fresh in their minds.
Durant simply could not figure out a way to corral Bennie Coney and Co., and the game got out of hand after halftime. Plant City overwhelmed the Cougars with a record-setting night of offense, cruising to a 31-point win and the James L. Redman Memorial Cup.
The feeling from that night never really went away despite their best efforts to atone through an undefeated start this season.
“It was definitely frustrating,” defensive lineman Zach Hoffman said.
“That was embarrassing,” defensive back J.J. Garrett said.
“It was hard to watch,” fullback Jamarlon Hamilton said. “We need revenge for that.”
The Cougars (4-0) finally have a chance to redeem themselves against their intra-city rivals Friday night. Plant City (3-1) has won three straight since losing its opener but doesn’t seem nearly so formidable without Coney, who was one of the state’s top quarterback recruits in 2011 and went on to sign with Cincinnati.
Regardless, Durant has shown this year that it can handle a highly touted quarterback.
Matched up against Wharton’s Chase Litton, a 6-foot-6 junior with an offer from LSU, the Cougars held the then-undefeated Wildcats to a modest 330 yards and 12 points, recovered two fumbles and scored on a 30-yard interception return by Terry Grimsley.
Indeed, Durant prevailed 13-12 at Wildcat Stadium despite finishing with only nine first downs and 248 yards.
It’s all part of a drastic defensive turnaround from the previous year, when the Cougars were allowing 24 points per game. Other than a shutout win against Freedom in the 2011 opener, Durant allowed no fewer than 13 points in a game.
This year, through four games, the Cougars have surrendered a total of 19 points. They credit their success to a combination of experienced upperclassmen, talented underclassmen and enough depth that they barely missed Garrett — possibly the team’s top recruit — who broke his left arm in preseason and has yet to play in the regular season.
“Lots of guys have stepped in and done a phenomenal job,” coach Mike Gottman said.
Garrett, who wore a brace on his arm earlier this week, will play against Plant City. Gottman said he’ll probably come off the bench and play a limited number of snaps.
The Cougars are off to their best start since 2003 with a team of mostly undersized and overlooked players. Out here in far eastern Hillsborough, among the strawberry farms and the flatwoods, Durant has quietly inserted itself into the discussion about the county’s best teams.
The Cougars were eager to prove themselves after listening to all the hype surrounding Wharton’s star-studded lineup that includes Litton and five-star defensive back recruit Vernon Hargreaves III.
For those outside of Durant’s fieldhouse, last week’s win was the first clue the Cougars might be capable of a special season.
“That gave us a lot of confidence,” Hamilton said. “We know because we’re out here that a lot of people don’t know about us. But if you want respect, you have to take it.”
That will require, at the least, avenging the humbling they experienced at Plant City last year.
“This is our year,” Hoffman said.
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jdhometeam.