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.''