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Cotey: Countryside can look to Hillsborough counterparts for inspiration, drive to improve

Countryside’s Josh Woodard scrambles for a loose ball, one of eight total fumbles on the night.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Countryside’s Josh Woodard scrambles for a loose ball, one of eight total fumbles on the night.

CLEARWATER — The woman allowing cars into the parking lot wasn't sure, but said the guy she had just let through had stated the rain was going to help Countryside.

The guy at the ticket booth agreed.

The kid putting a dry football under his jacket to keep it dry was convinced.

Plant wouldn't be able to pass. And Countryside would just run the ball all night behind its vaunted offensive line.

It was that simple.

And that wrong.

As it turned out Friday night in the biggest game in Cougars' history, Countryside could run the ball, but only when it wasn't fumbling it. And it seemed to fumble an awful lot.

"We had 450 running plays this season and we lost four fumbles," said Countryside coach John Davis. "We lost that many tonight, in one game."

In the game.

It was maddening for Davis, watching one fumble lead to a Plant field goal, and the others just lead to way too many plays for his defense. Each time the defense made a stand, it was asked to do it again.

Time after time, it did. The Cougars gave it up on their own 30 and held Plant scoreless, and again at midfield and held the Panthers to a field goal.

Linebacker J.W. Blakely was a beast. Defensive back Andrew Davis and linebacker Terry Johnson both came up with huge stops on third and goals. Defensive back Josh Woodard broke up a pass on fourth down.

They were valiant.

As a result, Countryside had a chance to kick a field goal midway through the third quarter to take the lead. Fumble.

The Cougars blocked a punt on Plant's next possession. Two plays later: Fumble.

The dam had finally sprung a leak. Two plays later, Plant led 16-9. After Countryside was stopped, the Panthers turned the game over to James Wilder Jr. and the power running game.

The Cougars defense started to look pooped, and Wilder eventually scored the game clincher.

"I'm proud of them, because the defense hung in there, they really did," said Davis. "But the offense couldn't help them. They couldn't keep Plant off the field."

With the rain still falling, with the soft and muddy field still trying to swallow the feet of the few who continued to stand on it, Plant coach Robert Weiner came over to tell Davis — again — about what a great job Countryside did. About what a great program Davis has.

Football season is over for Pinellas County, and here's what we are left with:

Armwood beat Largo.

Plant beat Countryside.

The difference between the top two programs in Pinellas County and the top two in Hillsborough? Not as great as you might think.

Getting smaller and smaller. But still wide enough for there to be no debate which ones are better.

Next week, Plant, 24-9 victors over the Cougars in The City that Never Stops Raining, will go to Lakeland and try to beat the Dreadnaughts.

Many have suggested, most notably Armwood's Sean Callahan, that it was Lakeland's success — the Dreadnaughts won 60 consecutive regular-season victories from 1995-2001 and have six state titles — that pushed programs like Armwood and Plant to become better.

Now, without question, the Panthers and Hawks are the top programs in Tampa Bay, with four state titles between them since that long Lakeland winning streak.

Hillsborough's success should inspire Pinellas in the same way.

Largo and Countryside were probably more excited to be playing Armwood and Plant than the other way around. That's as it should be, for now.

After closeup views of where both their programs could be headed, it is certain that the Pinellas powers are better off.

And getting better.

Cotey: Countryside can look to Hillsborough counterparts for inspiration, drive to improve 12/05/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 5, 2009 12:37am]
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