Cotey: Green Devils fabulous and unheralded

ST. PETERSBURG — It was teeth-chattering cold, his players were on the bus and ready to go, but Joe Fabrizio was taking a few minutes to bask in the glory of St. Petersburg's 20-10 playoff victory over Dunedin.

It was a victory that seemed a million buck sweeps away when he took the job three years ago.

It was …what's the word?

"Fab-ulous," yelled one of his players from the bus window, playing off his coach's name and trying to embarrass him.

Fabulous it is.

Friday night, it was 10-0 at one point. The Green Devils couldn't get around the corner on a fast Dunedin defense, they couldn't get through the middle, and they couldn't hold onto the ball.

Four fumbles. Two others that didn't count because of embarrassingly bad calls by the officials. Three personal fouls.

"It was an atrocious start," Fabrizio said.

The coach looked at the clock and prayed for halftime. His team was falling apart and he needed to get them into the locker room to clear his players' heads.

While St. Petersburg's offense ineptly stumbled around, the Green Devils defense showed what really makes the county's Cinderella dance.

It pushed and scrapped and grappled and granted the coach his wish.

The Green Devils were losing 10-3 at halftime.

It was never really close again.

They came out and drove 13 plays, failing to score when a bad pass was picked off by the Falcons and returned all the way to the St. Petersburg 30.

But the tone had been set. It seemed to matter little that Dunedin was knocking on the door.

The Falcons, looking for the knockout punch, swung and missed.

The Green Devils didn't.

Te'Jay Brown applied the pressure, which allowed Dominic James to rush the middle and get the sack and strip the ball, which led to a recovery and long return by Willie Culver, which set up a touchdown run by Malik Wilson, which vaulted St. Petersburg into a tie and on the way to its first playoff victory since 1984.

You see, this is how it works for the Green Devils.

There are no stars. When trying to figure them out, the stat sheet offers you nothing.

You just watch, and you will see.

"Team," said Brown, then for good measure, he repeats it, as James nods along. "Team."

You want heroes, we got two: Green. Devils.

And they all play defense for coordinator Keith Powers, who played for Fabrizio when he was an assistant at Seminole.

The numbers fly by in a rush: 5, 27, 78, 87, 56, 7 and others you can't quite make out in the pile, then you look up and Dunedin is going nowhere fast, unless you count the offseason, where the Falcons find themselves this morning.

"We were mad," said James, who switched from tackle to noseguard at halftime and made a huge impact.

Dunedin ran 17 plays in the second half for 24 yards. It had 3 yards or fewer on 13 of those plays. Fumbled on four of them. Was sacked on three others.

"We knew we had to make some plays, or this was going to be our last night," said Brown, a senior.

On one play, its James hitting talented running back Darius Bellamy for a loss. The next, it's sophomore linebacker Cody Pogoreic rushing through the center of the line to recover another fumble. Then it's a reverse by Stevie Murph, and a field goal by Devon Papandrew to give St. Petersburg the lead with just under five minutes left, and another fumble recovery leads to another touchdown by Wilson and then, it's over.

Or is it just beginning?

Three years ago, Fabrizio's program has an undefeated junior varsity team. His varsity assistants wanted to tap into that talent — guys like Culver and defensive back Marques Sumbry — to help ease the frustration of a long losing season.

The head coach said no.

"I said let's just muddle through this and let them develop," he said. "Though at times, it was hard not to call them up. But we knew, in the third year this team would be good."

Or even …fabulous.

Cotey: Green Devils fabulous and unheralded 11/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 4:52pm]

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