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PINELLAS PARK — Hey, Manatee, Pinellas Park senior quarterback Brandon Hames has a little something for you. Hope you have a bulletin board.
“We’re gonna win,’’ Hames said. “I don’t think they expect what we’re going to give to them. We’re going to give to them something that no team has ever given to them.”
Okay, maybe Manatee isn’t the best team to pick on. But it’s been a long time since Pinellas Park has been able to talk smack. The Patriots (7-3) will get a chance to back up the talk Friday night in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs at Manatee (8-2).
The Hurricanes are ranked fifth in the state by Max Preps. Their two losses have come against opponents outside Florida, New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep and Maryland’s Our Lady of Good Counsel. Manatee has won seven straight, including a 38-7 victory over Lakewood Ranch last week.
Pinellas Park has lost two of its past three games, including a one-point loss at Palm Harbor University last week. The Patriots are clearly underdogs, but they do plan on showing up Friday night.
“They’re big as heck,’’ senior receiver Iman Smith said. “All we can do is hit them hard. We better bring the A game.’’
Pinellas Park has not had an A game for a long time. Its last playoff appearance was 2001 and last winning season prior to this year was 2003. In the two previous seasons, the Patriots were 5-5, after going 5-45 the previous five years.
Senior running back/linebacker Jeremi Powell remembers his freshman year, when the team was 0-10 and going nowhere.
“My freshman year, playing for Coach (Matt) Lance, it’s like he didn’t care,’’ Powell said. “He’d walk right off the field. We’d be practicing and he would get mad at us and just leave. I swear. The coaches would just leave. We’d be just standing there. So if the coaches left, then we just left.’’
In came Kenny Crawford for the 2009 season and the rebuilding began.
“When I took this job everybody said I was an idiot. A fool,’’ Crawford said. “It was by far the worst program in the county. They were 0-10. They gave up 400 points. They had running clocks in like five games. They were shut out about five times. It was terrible. But I told the kids to have a short memory. We forgot about that a long time ago.’’
Three years later, the Patriots are practicing in mid November. They are a long way away from winless seasons and little hope. Hames didn’t think he’d ever suit up for a playoff game.
“Not at all,’’ he said. “I didn’t think my class would make it to the playoffs. But we did. Everybody was dedicated.’’
To be clear, it is likely going to take the Patriots’ best game of the season to beat Manatee. The Hurricanes have three running backs who have rushed for 500 or more yards and combined for 23 touchdowns.
Pinellas Park counters with running back Marquis Samuel, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season. Hames, Powell and
Smith, the other senior leaders, will also play big roles on offense and defense.
Hames is certainly oozing with confidence prior to his first playoff game, but he knows it’s going to take an extra effort to beat Manatee.
“If this is our last game then we want to play like it’s our last game,’’ Hames said. “We need to leave it all on the field. No regrets.’’
This year: 8-2, first in Class 7A, District 10
State rank: No. 5
Players to watch: QB Cord Sandberg (1,469 yards, 12 TDs, 513 rushing yards); RB Anthony Lauro (500 rushing yards, seven TDs); Leon Allen (571 rushing yards, eight TDs)