LARGO — Tonight's season opener against Boca Ciega is a chance for Pinellas Park to wipe away some bad memories.
The last time the Patriots played a meaningful game was Nov. 16 in the first round of the Class 7A region playoffs. They led in the fourth quarter but gave up two late scores to fall 31-21 to Venice.
It was supposed to be the next step in Pinellas Park's football progression. Winners of just one game in 2008, the Patriots worked their way into the playoffs in 2011. In 2012 the goal was to get to the second round.
"I just wanted to get another home game; we needed the extra parking and concession money," coach Kenny Crawford said.
He was joking, kind of.
The Patriots very much wanted to prove they were a viable team in the world of Pinellas County football. There were plenty of tears after the Venice loss. Even Crawford, who is rarely at a loss for words, had a hard time saying anything.
"We've got to get over the hump," Crawford said at the time. "We've got to take the next step."
That seems to be the mantra for this year's team.
"We had it, it just slipped away," senior running back/defensive back Pierre Johnson said of last year's playoff game. "We've been in that spot the past two years. We've got to make it past that first step. It's our role. I think we owe it to everyone on this team."
Breaking the school's 15-year playoff winless streak may not be that easy.
East Lake, ranked No. 5 in Class 7A by the Associated Press, is now in District 9 and becomes the instant favorite to win out.
Senior offensive lineman and linebacker Antonio Harris has been part of the Patriots' rise. He says there is a difference in this year's team compared with those of the past.
"Last year we had a lot of talented players but we seemed to be all over the place," Harris said. "Not to say anything bad about them, but that's how they were. This year everybody is committed to the team. Everyone's on time. The leadership roles have come together."
Not only would the Patriots like to erase memories of the Venice game, but of last year's Boca Ciega game as well. The Pirates were 0-5 when they played Pinellas Park last season. But a late interception for a touchdown gave Boca Ciega a 21-14 win.
The Patriots have had all offseason to stew about that one.
"We've been looking forward to this for a while,'' Johnson said. "We didn't want it to end that way."
"We weren't really that focused for whatever reason," Harris added. "We are definitely focused for this one."
And that's Crawford's goal this season. Instead of looking at the big picture, he wants his team to take it game by game, day by day.
"That's all we can do, make sure we're prepared and play hard every game," he said. "If we do that, then we can talk about playoffs."
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RodneyHomeTeam.