TAMPA — Moments after one of the most astounding wins in his eight seasons at Countryside, coach John Davis assembled his exhilarated players in an end zone and raised this rhetorical question.
"Why can't we go all the way?"
Few could dare debate that point after the Cougars (11-1) transformed the chilliest night of the season into bleak Friday for Tampa Bay Tech (9-2).
In what Davis anticipated would be a "street fight," the Cougars had landed 21 points' worth of haymakers before the Titans knew what hit them en route to a 47-20 romp. Countryside hosts Plant in a Class 5A region championship showdown next week.
"They did what we didn't expect them to do," said Titans coach C.C. Culpepper, whose defense had held six previous foes to 10 or fewer points. "They actually got after us a little more than I thought, so hats off to them.."
How much better? On the scoreboard, on the stat sheet, at the line of scrimmage and certainly at the starting gate.
When Countryside quarterback Jimbo Chmelik (226 total yards, four total touchdowns) scored on a 16-yard run on the second quarter's opening play to give the visitors a 21-0 lead, TBT had yet to tally a first down.
The Titans totaled only 148 yards on the night and lost two fumbles, both of which Countryside converted into TDs. Chmelik and senior Alton Taylor (33 carries, 198 yards, three TDs) flourished behind an offensive line that may have played its best game.
Chmelik (11-for-13, 159 yards) completed his first seven passes. Among them: a 4-yard touchdown to Tyler Walker that capped a 12-play opening drive extended when TBT was whistled for roughing kicker William Griswold on a 36-yard field goal attempt. Three plays after forcing TBT to go three and out, Taylor scored from 35 yards. A Maurice Hagens fumble on the ensuing Titans possession set up the Cougars' eight-play drive capped by Chmelik's 16-yarder.
"You can't line up and just bang them; they're too good," Davis said. "So to line up and just run our offense, I didn't think we could. We were going to have to use some misdirection, we were gonna have to use the play (action) pass. Jimbo did a great job on the naked boots and things like that. …We ran a bunch of stuff at them."
TBT seized momentum in the second quarter on a dizzying sequence started by Johnathon Williams' 22-yard scoring pass to C.J. Jackson, cutting the deficit to 21-6. Countryside fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Hagens (10 carries, 60 yards) scored from 18 yards the next play.
TBT got no closer. Countryside scored on its first four possessions of the second half. The proverbial dagger: a 47-yard touchdown run by Chmelik that made it 40-14 with 1:09 to play in the third.
"It seems like we're peaking a little bit at the right time," Davis said. "…Our kids came out to play, and I'm very, very proud of 'em."