CLEARWATER — It was one of Countryside's toughest tests of the regular season, and the defense took it very seriously, all 11 starters shouting, flushed with adrenaline.
Tarpon Springs' offense, particularly running backs Adrian Golden and Darius Daniels, was supposed to run roughshod over the Cougars on Oct. 15.
But that never happened.
Both backs were met by a wall of pads wherever they went. The defense held, repeatedly. And — after a 21-10 victory — most players and coaches believe in that moment there was a sense, for the first time, that Countryside's defense would quickly evolve from a crippling liability into an asset.
"We were able to stop Tarpon to some extent and that is when we started to turn the corner," Cougars coach John Davis said.
With eight new starters, the defense played in the shadow of a prolific offense all season. The revamped unit has allowed 21 points or fewer in each of its past six games.
In last week's Class 5A region semifinal, Countryside held Tampa Bay Tech running back Maurice Hagens, a Miami recruit, to 60 yards rushing.
Now comes Plant (10-1), which has a couple of intimidating offensive weapons and a history of breezing by Pinellas County teams in the playoffs.
The stakes are high and the challenge is immense.
"These guys haven't won two state titles because they were lucky," Davis said of Plant. "They've done it because they're pretty darn good. Are we going to shut them out? No way. We just have to keep playing and hopefully capitalize on some mistakes."
The key, Davis believes, starts with his defensive front, led by end Tyler Walker, one of three returning starters (safety Mitch Ronacher and cornerback Alex Dixon are the others).
"We have to try to get pressure on the quarterback, which is something not many teams have been able to do," Davis said.
Walker has had his moments, including at least one touchdown.
"As a group, the defense has been flying under the radar," Walker said. "We're not the biggest group of linemen, but we'll fight and we hope to get the job done."
There is some concern in the secondary, where defensive back Xavier Palmore injured his knee and is out for three weeks.
"This is a defense that has been able to bend but not break," Davis said. "We have to keep doing that and make Plant work for everything they get."