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Cotey: Trials transform three playoff teams

They are now here, in the state semifinal, waiting for the chance. For Pasco, to step back into history, to give Pasco County its first state finalist since 1992. For Plant, to relive history, as it inches closer and closer to a second title in three seasons. For Largo, to make history, not only by beating the No. 1 team in the country, but by possibly becoming the first in school history to make the title game. Six weeks ago, who would have thought these would be the teams left standing? In the span of 14 days, Pasco lost to a region rival, Plant lost Aaron Murray and Largo lost its air of invincibility.

Pasco

TURNING POINT: Oct. 3

Pasco came into its game with Nature Coast winning ugly. It had beaten Hudson by two points and Wesley Chapel by one the previous weeks, two teams that would finish with losing records.

The Pirates finally got burned, losing 18-17 to the Sharks.

"Heartbreaking,'' said Pasco coach Tom McHugh. "It was a shoulda, coulda, woulda game for us. But it brought the kids together.''

IMPRESSIVE: The Pirates were 4-1 at the time, and the defense had yielded 79 points. Since?

The defense has allowed 66 points in eight games, with three shutouts.

REALLY IMPRESSIVE: The Pirates' 2008 season is just half of the amazing job McHugh has done, and as good a rebuilding job as any in the state. He's only in his second year, but after inheriting a program where the boosters and many fans had jumped ship, he has managed to restore pride to the program without sacrificing his vision.

"We have spread around the ownership of the success,'' he said.

The Pasco program had long been regarded as one with too many selfish, disruptive players to ever get past the toughest tests. And to have eliminated that culture in such a short time is pretty remarkable.

Plant

TURNING POINT: Oct. 16

The Panthers were left for dead after quarterback Aaron Murray broke his left leg in the first half against Hillsborough. The Panthers went into the locker room that Thursday night wondering if their leader was finished for the season.

It appeared he was.

The team wasn't.

IMPRESSIVE: Without Murray, the Panthers appear to be a more focused group, knowing there is no hero to bail them out.

They dominated Hillsborough in the second half after Murray's injury, manhandled Chamberlain, routed Jefferson, beat Lakewood by 60 in a playoff game and turned the tables in winning the rematch with Armwood.

In wins over the Chiefs and Hawks, teams that averaged 39 points a game, Plant gave up 27 points total.

REALLY IMPRESSIVE: Depending on what report you read, Murray was sacked anywhere from five to 10 times in the first meeting between Armwood and Plant, and he was hit a whole lot more. The Panthers' offensive line was embarrassed, and for good reason.

In Part 2, with 15-year-old sophomore Phillip Ely behind center, the line shockingly allowed just one sack — and coach Bob Weiner said that was more his quarterback's fault.

"And that was the only time Phillip was touched,'' Weiner said.

Kudos to offensive line coach Sean Love and his group of Jon Vega, Matt Schnitz­lein, Javon Mention, Austin Clark and Andre Mondor. The finest turnaround you will find, against one of the best defensive lines in the state.

Largo

TURNING POINT: Oct. 16

There were smiles all around heading into the fourth quarter. The sideline was loose. In a meeting of the top teams in Pinellas County, Largo was beating Lakewood 24-6 with seven minutes remaining.

Final score: Lakewood 32, Largo 24.

IMPRESSIVE: The Packers have had one bad quarter all season. Going into that fourth quarter against Lakewood, they had allowed just 29 points in 23 quarters.

Since, the defense has surrendered only seven touchdowns in seven games. The closest Largo game has been 25 points. They get better each week.

REALLY IMPRESSIVE: Last year, running back Brynn Harvey rushed for a county-record 2,581 yards. Leonard Johnson was the most dangerous quarterback that side of the bay. The offensive line was top-notch.

Graduation may have dulled the Packers offense … for about four games. They couldn't break 20 but one time in the first month, but haven't been held under 30 since.

And last week? How about a school-record 59 against Charlotte.

Pick your star: quarterback Ryan Eppes, receivers Mike Lang and Myrick Gwynn, running backs Sean Holte and Marcel Durham. Point is, you have a wider selection to choose from this year, which is why the Packers are 12-1 and playing St. Thomas Aquinas in a state semifinal again.

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com.

fast facts

State semifinals

Games Friday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $7

Class 3A: Tallahassee Godby at Pasco

Class 4A: Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer at Plant

Class 5A: Largo at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas

Cotey: Trials transform three playoff teams 12/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:50pm]

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