When Plant City began this flag football season, an undefeated year didn't seem very realistic.
The Raiders possessed plenty of talent, but having a new quarterback, sophomore Avery Brown, meant the team had to thrive while she went through a learning process at the most important position on the team.
So while Brown learned on the go, Plant City had a second quarterback to help with the transition — a quarterback on defense.
Spectacular senior linebacker Shay Wright produced her best season sparking the defense. She showcased her talent again Tuesday at Armwood as Plant City beat rival Durant 14-0 for the district title.
Plant City became the first Hillsborough County team to claim five district crowns and will host either Bloomingdale or East Bay in a first-round game Saturday at 4 p.m. The Raiders are now 11-0 and eyeing a possible third trip to the state finals next weekend.
Wright led the Raiders to three defensive stands as Durant got inside the 10-yard line only to come away empty. She recorded six sacks.
"Every time Durant had third-and-short... sack," said Raider assistant Larry Langston.
It seems to be that way with Wright.
She's been the stalwart on defense for Plant City since her freshman season. Her pursuit of the opposing quarterback is relentless and ridiculously fast. Essentially, she takes away the opponents' ability to run the ball because no one gets past her.
"I just see the quarterback's eyes and attack," said Wright, who Langston describes as "squirrely" on the field.
Wright started off as a cheerleader at Plant City but friends encouraged her to try out for the flag football team simply because of her speed.
Not everyone takes to defense, but extenuating circumstances led Wright to that side of the ball.
"I really can't catch the ball very well. But, I can chase the other girls down," she said.
On the other side, Brown was a terrific receiver as a freshman but was pegged by the Raiders coaches to be Katie Evans' successor at quarterback.
But she struggled in her first game at the position, throwing three interceptions against state power Seminole Ridge in a summer tournament.
"I really didn't do that good. At all," she said. "I was all nervous."
What she didn't realize is how far into the fire she was being thrown. Seminole Ridge ended up outscoring its opponents 430-7 this regular season.
The early Raiders schedule didn't include any monster opponents, giving Brown time to adjust while Wright and company shut down the opposition.
Around the third game, estimates Raider speedster receiver Kristen Wyckoff, Brown got comfortable.
Brown's cause is helped by the softball teams' willingness to share its players during the spring. Wyckoff is the shortstop and Kacie Booth, who caught a touchdown against Durant, shares second base duties with Sam Black.
"We finally got soccer players this year too," said a very happy Raider head coach Michael Paul.
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Though she has college soccer talent, Durant quarterback Jessica McClernan's taking to flag football has been a major boon to the Cougars. Durant will lose key seniors Sidney Millard, defensive fireplug Caira Strickland, tight ends Mackenzie Morrison and Magan Lee as well as center Nikki Burg. But McClernan has one more year.
And the Raiders-Cougars rivalry will continue to be intense, particularly so in this sport. Crowd support is tremendous for both teams and was very present even at a neutral site like Armwood.
"The kids enjoy it," said Durant head coach Brad Brunson. "The banter is definitely there. Our kids just wanna beat Plant City."
Especially McClernan, who can't wait to play the Raiders again.
"I take losses to heart."
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]