Cotey: Countryside defense defies expectations

They are not fast enough.

Not big enough.

Not experienced enough.

They are the weak link, the chink in the Countryside armor, the blind spot.

They have everyone a little bit worried.

But enough about what the Cougars coaching staff has been telling its defense the past four months.

As it turned out Thursday night, this Cougar defense was a Wolfinbarger in sheep's clothing.

"We heard it at every practice,'' said defensive end Derek Wolfinbarger, or No. 44 to a Gibbs offensive line that should be pretty sick of hearing about No. 44 after Friday's film session.

"I think we proved some people wrong.''

If it wasn't Wolfinbarger getting to Gibbs quarterback Josh Rembert, it was the other defensive end, Tyler Walker.

When one forced a fumble the other recovered it.

When one forced Rembert one way, it was usually right into the hands of the other.

Combined, the Cougars had six sacks.

"Contain, contain, contain,'' Walker said. "We were told all week just to contain and don't let anyone get outside. I think we did our jobs.''

Defensive coordinator Ron Ragland, who smartly rotated at least 20 players in on defense to keep everyone fresh, was nearly emotionally moved by the discipline his ends showed.

When the temptation came to get suckered inside, and most high school ends do, his guys stubbornly resisted.

The rest of the Cougar defense — gummed together with youngsters and leftover pieces from last year's offense and players like Walker, who is only his second season of organized football — was stout.

The Gibbs running attack went nowhere thanks to a strong effort from nose Mike Selkey to receiver-turned-linebacker Richard Shockley. And Justin Brooks, who has played everywhere, seems to have settled in at safety and headed up a young defensive backfield that gave Rembert few open receivers to throw to. At least half the sacks can be credited to them, for making Rembert hold the ball longer than he should have.

It's still early, and in the end Gibbs may still prove to be the better team. But the Cougars' 21-14 win was a big upset, Gibbs' reputation being what it was.

More surprising than the score, though, was the fact that the Gibbs offense gained a measly 46 yards and never threatened in a 21-14 loss at home.

The hype, apparently, is not to be believed. This is a Gibbs team that lit up scoreboards in the summer in 7-on-7 football, boasts as much speed as anyone in the county and is supposed to be better than it has been in years.

Against a unit that was Countryside's biggest question mark, the Gladiators couldn't run (and gave up on the notion quickly) and couldn't pass. Only a defensive score and a kick return from the excellent Jarvis West saved them from homefield shame.

"I don't know if we showed everyone the blueprint how to beat Gibbs, but we showed how good we can be,'' Walker said.

And how good is that?

"Good enough for the playoffs.''

As for the Gladiators, they'll be fine just as soon as they get tougher on defense and find an offensive identity, though they might want to hurry.

For the moment, though, a district thought to be a two-team race between Gibbs and Largo must now welcome St. Petersburg to the fight.

A handful of Green Devils watched the game and seemed to enjoy what they saw.

Cotey: Countryside defense defies expectations 09/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 1:34pm]

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