TEMPLE TERRACE — You can beat a team.
Score at will.
Grind them to a pulp.
But can you steal their nickname?
Tampa Bay Tech may have done just that Friday, mixing a powerful running game and hard-hitting defense will a super-sized portion of braggadocio in claiming they are the new Big Red by virtue of a 46-28 win over, well, the old Big Red.
Guess it beats being the old red, white and blue. Or the pre-C.C. Titans.
But truthfully, you can't take Hillsborough's nickname, even if you switch from a blue jersey to a red one (to match your pants) before the game, then hammer home your point. My question: why would you want to?
The brand name ain't what it used to be.
Hillsborough remains a perplexing team. Loaded with speed on offense and the supposed winner in last offseason's recruiting sweepstakes, the Terriers will enter the playoffs next week looking for their first win over a team that has more wins than losses. If you want to dig up a signature win, you'll have to reach for that victory over Alonso, or East Bay.
You're better off not reaching at all. Despite much preseason acclaim, the story of the Terriers' season is not who they have beaten, but who they haven't — Jefferson, Armwood and now, Tampa Bay Tech. It's hard to imagine they would have beaten Plant, either, though that game was rained out and never played.
And it isn't just a 2009 thing. Last year, the Terriers didn't make the playoffs for the first time in forever and gave up 40-plus points in losses to Chamberlain, Plant and Armwood.
Not tough enough on defense? Unable to establish an offensive identity? Maybe the talent has been overstated and overrated.
There's something just not right about the Terriers, and at least on Friday a lot of that was what is just so right with Tech.
The Titans have played their way into any conversation about the best team in Tampa Bay, and you can make a pretty convincing argument it's them.
Power running game with multiple weapons (Maurice Hagens had five touchdowns against Hillsborough, but it was really Cludner Lecount that sliced the Terriers up).
Steady quarterback who keeps defenses honest (see Jonathon Williams' 71-yard slant to C.J. Jackson, a laser that hit the wide receiver in stride).
Outstanding linebackers leading a ferocious defense (Hillsborough quarterback Tarean Austin was rushed into his worst game of the season).
Great coaching (C.C. Culpepper could lead his team through a wall. Even a Big Red one).
Hillsborough will move on to the playoffs though it's unlikely its stay will be long. Tech, chances are, will be a team that makes its mark in the postseason.
The gamesmanship was cute Friday. The all-red jerseys an amusing mental ploy.
The point? Made.
In the end, it's not really about the nickname, but what it represents. It means inclusion into an exclusive club that for years was never a realistic goal.
A club where the teams compete for district titles and state championships every year, where they know your name across the state, where the papers trumpet your every success.
A club to which Tampa Bay Tech has, without question, belonged all season.
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com
Round 1 starts Nov. 20
Plant City at Plant
Alonso at Newsome
East Lake at Tampa Bay Tech
Freedom at Countryside
Sickles at Armwood
Hillsborough at Largo
Land O'Lakes at Jefferson
Jesuit at Hardee
DeSoto County at Robinson
Dunbar at Tampa Catholic
Berkeley Prep at Dixie County