This is the week Pinellas Park has been waiting for all season. The Patriots figured if they played to their potential, they would be 7-0, setting up a Class 7A, District 9 showdown against East Lake.
It has arrived.
Pinellas Park has outscored opponents 266-51. It averages 435 yards per game on offense and about 150 yards on defense.
Yet the Patriots are the clear underdog against the Eagles.
East Lake (7-0) has outscored teams 327-38, and they are better teams. The combined record of Pinellas Park’s seven opponents is 13-39. Only Osceola (5-3) has a winning record.
If the Patriots are going to quiet the doubters, they’ll have to shut down an East Lake offense with many Division I athletes, especially receivers Artavis Scott and George Campbell.
“We haven’t got the respect we should,” said junior defensive back Rashaan Watson, who has four interceptions. “Yes, our offense has been great. But I think (the defense) averages like nine points a game (7.2). And nobody’s talking about us?”
The defense will get its due if it can stop East Lake. Linebackers Antonio Harris and Kal-el Williams have been steady all season, and Watson and Pierre Johnson have held down the secondary. Patriots coach Kenny Crawford, in his fifth season, said he hasn’t coached a better unit.
“This is the best defense since I’ve been here,” Crawford said. “They just line up and get after it. They don’t complain, they just play hard.”
The Patriots’ defense has watched tape of East Lake. They’ve seen Scott run around opponents after a catch and running back Weston Fordham run through them. They’ve seen Campbell catch passes from Jake Hudson and turn them into touchdowns.
What is the strategy against the Eagles on Friday?
“You have to be physical,” Watson said. “You have to try to make their life miserable. You can see that on film. If you play 5 or 6 yards off them, they kill you. They literally make you look stupid. So the best way is to get right in their face. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I’m going to try to do, anyway.”
Williams said it’s all about remaining calm against not only an explosive offense but a crowd that is sure to be loud.
“We can’t get too excited,” Williams said. “They are going to complete passes. Every team does. We have to stay steady during those times. Bad things are going to happen. When it does, we have to ball up like a fist and punch them back.”
East Lake’s defense may have to survive a few punches itself. The Patriots are the rare team using the wing-T and have gained yards in chunks.
“We’ve got to try to get ahead and make them play catch-up,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. “They’ve got some good players. And we haven’t seen a wing-T team since the spring.”
Pinellas Park’s offense has played a big role in this season’s success. And it has done it with a basic strategy.
Said Williams: “We hit everything that’s moving until the whistle blows.”