TAMPA — East Bay has made of plenty of history the past few weeks.
The Indians won a three-team tiebreaker Nov. 4 to capture their first district title since 1973. Last Friday, the team beat Gaither for the school's first playoff win in nearly six decades of existence.
Tonight, the Indians have another shot at the record books.
East Bay will attempt to win its first-ever region semifinal when it travels to face Sickles at 7:30 p.m.
"These kids deserve this," East Bay coach Frank LaRosa said. "They've put in the work it takes to get to this point. Now it's time for them to reap the rewards."
LaRosa said the Indians' magical season has been far from an overnight success story. The likable coach who's built like a fire hydrant inherited a program three years ago that hadn't seen a winning season since 2006 and won just one game on the field in 2010. After going 4-6 in each of his first two years, LaRosa's message of off-field work began to sink in.
"They began to buy into the fact that games can be won in the weight room," he said. "And even though we have a lot of kids who play other sports, we started stealing time with them before school. And they all showed up with their notebooks and wanted to learn and get better."
Junior defensive lineman Eric Latortue, who came in the same year as LaRosa, said a deep level of trust has been built up with the team and coaching staff.
"We have been working as hard as we possibly can," Latortue said. "Everything the coaches have been asking us to do in practice, we've been doing. And it's been paying off."
Latortue, along with the rest of his defensive line mates, have perhaps been the biggest reason for the Indians' success. Marques Ford (10 sacks), Kameron Daniels (nine) and Latortue (nine) have accounted for 28 of the Indians' 32 sacks.
"And the best thing about them is that they are all coachable, unselfish and put the group first," LaRosa said. "They poke fun at each other about (stats) but they really don't care about the stats."
Latortue echoed his coach's comments.
"We have fun with it," he said. "We joke around in practice about who got the most sacks in the last game and everything, but it's just from a joking aspect."
All three play for the Indians' basketball team and check in over 6-foot-1, led by the 6-foot-6 Ford.
"They are an extremely athletic group," LaRosa said.
Although the trio gets plenty of shine with all the splash plays, LaRosa said the fourth lineman, 5-foot-11, 265-pound defensive tackle Anthony Clayton, may be most responsible for the group's success.
"He has the body type of a run stopper, but he's got fantastic hips," LaRosa said. "I've seen him on tape chasing a running back 20 or 30 yards downfield. And because he gets such good pressure up the middle, the rushers off the edge benefit."
East Bay will need a colossal effort from their front four tonight to beat Sickles, a team that has the area's leading rusher (Ray Ray McCloud) as well as a potent passing attack.
"That's all we've heard about is Sickles, Sickles, Sickles," Latortue said. "But really it's all about us. We've got to dictate play, and I think we will."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]