PLANT CITY — While the Durant running attack has been getting most of the accolades, and it's a big reason why the Cougars are 11-0, the defense keeps chugging along doing its part.
For Durant's historic football season to keep progressing, that defense might have to capture more of the headlines. The opposition will only get tougher, and the Cougars start this week with a very measurable challenge against Newsome in a Class 7A regional semifinal.
"I figured Newsome could beat Gaither because I knew they could run the ball on them," Cougars coach Mike Gottman said of Newsome's 52-7 playoff win over Gaither. "But I had no idea they'd run for 511 yards. That was stunning."
The Wolves have been pretty consistent all year on offense, averaging 35.9 points per game since a season-opening 34-10 loss to Tampa Bay Tech. The Wolves started the year 0-3, but since then only lost once, 38-28 to Durant back on Oct. 18.
Though Durant forced four Newsome fumbles, the 28 points were the most the Cougars have given up all year. It's not easy to stop the Wolves' confounding offense.
"They try to outflank you. They try to confuse you," Gottman said of Newsome's Wing-T, option attack. "The key is to keep focused on reading your keys."
Lining up properly helps. Gottman said he looked back at tape of the first meeting, and 13 times the Cougars were out of position before the ball was even snapped.
Still, as has been the case all season, the defense made enough plays. Linebacker Zach Hoffman, one of three seniors at the position along with Tyler Moody and Chris Smith, has especially been flying to the ball, and that will have to happen again tonight.
Smith had the big play last week, forcing a fumble from Tampa Bay Tech quarterback Deon Cain as the Titans looked to close a 21-7 deficit. After Durant recovered the ball, it went on to a 34-7 win.
The secondary won't be called on as often to do its conventional job of defending the pass, though Newsome's outstanding quarterback Will Worth has been throwing it more than 10 times per game.
Instead standout Randy Baker and his cohorts will need to be ready to follow through after Worth decides whether to keep the ball or pitch it. He keeps it more often than not. Worth has 198 rushing attempts, more than double that of top running back Clint Carnell.
In all, Worth averages more than 110 yards rushing per game, by far the best of any quarterback in Hillsborough County.
But that was the case the last time the teams played, and Durant managed to hit him hard enough to cough it up twice. One fumble was run back for a score by lineman Colin Kiehlmeier.
"If it's a tight ballgame I expect nothing less of those guys than what they always give me," Gottman said. "They keep scrapping and make plays. Even when they're giving up some yards, and a team is driving. For instance we'll hold the other team to a field goal. They're resilient."
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]