New tune for Patriots

Quarterback Brandon Hames has been effective through the air and on the ground this season, and when the Patriots need a big play they turn to their defense.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Quarterback Brandon Hames has been effective through the air and on the ground this season, and when the Patriots need a big play they turn to their defense.

PINELLAS PARK — When talking about powerhouse football programs in Pinellas County, Pinellas Park isn't the first school to come to mind. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth (you get the point).

But every 10 years or so, the Patriots quietly work their way into contention. This is one of those years.

Pinellas Park (6-1, 3-0) is on the doorstep of a playoff berth, which would be its first since 2001. Tonight's Class 7A, District 9 game against Countryside could clinch a postseason spot. That's clearly a tough task against the Cougars (8-0, 3-0), who have outscored opponents 303-89.

If tonight doesn't work out for the Patriots, a final district game against winless Seminole awaits next week. A win against the Warhawks would also ensure a playoff berth.

The word "playoff'' hasn't been thrown around much in the Patriots' locker room — until recently.

"We mention it every day,'' coach Kenny Crawford said. "Darn right.''

When Crawford took over in 2009, Pinellas Park had won six games over the previous five seasons. The past two years the Patriots were 5-5, thanks to a stingy defense and just enough offense to get by.

"For whatever reason they weren't buying what (coaches) were selling,'' Crawford said. "When we came in here we went to a more defensive emphasis. We decided we were going to play lockdown defense and then figure out how to score after that.''

The philosophy remains, though there are some offensive weapons. Marquis Samuel has rushed for 679 yards and scored six touchdowns. Quarterback Brandon Hames has thrown for about 700 yards and nine touchdowns and added 189 yards rushing.

But defense is why Pinellas Park is achieving. The Patriots give up just more than 15 points per game. They'll have to try to slow the Countryside tandem of running back Diomi Roberts and quarterback Gray Crow, which few teams have figured out.

Crawford said it's about time his team had a big game in late October.

"The goal this year was to be a winning program. Goal achieved,'' Crawford said. "Then we wanted to be a postseason participant. If you're going to do that you have to win games like this. We're looking to be Buster Douglas.''

Memorable moments

While they don't play many, here are other big games in Pinellas Park history:

Pinellas Park at Plant, Nov. 4, 1983

Coach: Bruce Buck

Situation: Winner would be district champ. Plant had won six district titles in the past 11 years. Pinellas Park, only seven years old at the time, had never won a district championship. It was played in front of nearly 10,000 fans.

Outcome: Plant took a 7-0 lead late in the second quarter, but Pinellas Park's Keith Stephens returned the kickoff 80 yards to tie. Regulation ended 7-7, forcing overtime. Plant scored on two plays, but Pinellas Park came back when Julius Sherman hit tight end David Mass on fourth down to force a second overtime. The Patriots' Jeff Conover kicked a field goal, then John Gatewood intercepted a Plant pass to seal the historic win. Pinellas Park 17-14.

St. Petersburg at Pinellas Park, Nov. 21, 1997

Coach: James Adams

Situation: Pinellas Park was hosting its first playoff game.

Outcome: The Patriots were 8-2 in the regular season. Pinellas Park's Adam Bradley kicked a first-quarter field goal and that ended up being the difference. St. Petersburg got inside the Patriots' 10-yard line three times but never scored. David Green had an interception in the end zone and the defense held on downs twice. It was Pinellas Park's first and only playoff win. Pinellas Park 3-0.

Pinellas Park at Clearwater, Oct. 26, 2001

Coach: James Adams

Situation: This is a bit of a stretch, but Pinellas Park was 1-1 in its district and 1-7 overall. Still, a win meant a wild-card playoff spot.

Outcome: Jamarcus Smith went crazy, with 237 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns to pace the Patriots. Pinellas Park scored on the opening kickoff and was never really threatened. After a first-quarter touchdown, the defense shut out the Tornadoes and was playoff bound. Pinellas Park 31-7.

New tune for Patriots 10/27/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2011 11:48pm]

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