Cotey: James Wilder Jr. instrumental to Plant's success

CLEARWATER — The game was slipping away, and with it their season, so all the Countryside Cougars could do was hang on.

About a half-dozen of them, clutching James Wilder Jr. around his waist, his legs, his shoulder pads. Right into the end zone.

Yeah, buddy.

That's Wilder's greeting to people. What he says to fire up the troops. He has it shaved into the side of his head and written in marker on his pads.

He yells it when he scores.

It was Mike Mirabella's fumble recovery that led to the score that turned the tide in Plant's favor Friday night.

It was Wilder's powerful running that washed over the Cougars and sent them home wet, muddy and defeated 24-9.

Yeah, buddy.

"He was the perfect running back on a night like this," said Countryside coach John Davis. "He's a mudder."

Wilder is actually much more than that. He is a perfect running back in almost any condition. The son of former Tampa Bay Buc James Wilder, the younger Wilder shares many of the same characteristics as his famous father.

He is tough, fast enough and apparently never gets tired.

His dad once carried the ball an NFL record 43 times. Friday night, James Wilder Jr. rarely left the field, doing damage with the ball and chasing the ball from his linebacker position in conditions suited best for the strong.

One time, he left the game with a cramp, shortly after a little away-from-the-ball scuffle with some Cougars. He promised he was going to go back in and score another touchdown or get a sack.

His first play back, he carried what seemed like the whole city of Clearwater about 15 yards. He put his head down and ran one Cougar over, almost went down twice and took on extra cargo with every step.

Yeah, buddy.

It was reminiscent of a run earlier this season against Armwood, where he carried the entire Hawks defense for an extra 15 yards late in the fourth quarter.

"How many yards was this one?" Wilder asked. Told about 15 yards, he said, "This one was better. This was the playoffs."

It's all about finishing strong, he says, and the Panthers did just that in advancing to next week's showdown with state powerhouse Lakeland.

Last year, Wilder's season ended at Bryant Stadium. He was playing for Chamberlain then.

"I really want revenge," he said. "I refuse to let us lose."

Yeah, buddy.

His team Friday was only ahead 10-9 at halftime, and it should have been more. Countryside lost three fumbles. Plant scored one touchdown and one field goal.

Wilder wasn't happy.

"He had a look in his eyes," said Plant coach Robert Weiner.

He had 18 yards on his first carry of the second half.

After Mirabella's defensive wizardry led to a short Phillip Ely score to make it 16-9, and the ball at midfield, Wilder carried five straight times for 46 hard, punishing, filthy yards. They were the kind of carries, at the point in the game where Countryside couldn't afford to yield, that rip a defense's heart out.

Then he finished off the drive — and the Cougars — with a touchdown.

"I really wanted to end the game right," he said.

Even more, he wants to end the season right, and that means going through Lakeland with the hopes of getting to the finals and the No. 1 team in the county, St. Thomas Aquinas.

He remembers Lakeland well.

The jumbotron. That music. The crushing defeat.

"Not this time," he said. "I'll be telling them stories all week."

He says the Panthers will be ready.

Yeah, buddy.

Cotey: James Wilder Jr. instrumental to Plant's success 12/05/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 5, 2009 12:08am]

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