PLANT CITY — On a weekend conceived for costumes, Plant City's 15 sophomore starters broke out the most astounding disguises of all Friday night at Durant.
They made themselves up to look like poised, resilient veterans.
Down by five midway through the fourth quarter after squandering a 19-point halftime lead, the Raiders (6-3, 3-1) mounted a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive to rally for a 27-24 triumph.
They extended their win streak to five games, captured the James L. Redman trophy that goes to this rivalry's winner and, most important, kept their Class 5A, District 6 playoff hopes alive.
"At the beginning of the year, I don't think we would've had (the resilience) to come back because we're so young," Raiders second-year coach Jason Strunk said. "But we watched it happen to us time and time again. And finally it's nice for us to do it.
"That drive there shows exactly how far we've come."
The winning points, fittingly enough, were provided by sophomore Daz'mond Patterson, who spent most of the warm evening disguised as Barry Sanders (26 carries, 227 yards, two touchdowns).
His 1-yard run and ensuing two-point conversion came with 49 seconds to play, capping a six-minute drive. On Durant's final possession, quarterback Je'Twan Smith (217 total yards) threw three consecutive incompletions before being sacked on fourth down by Joseph Benton.
Benton's grade? Sophomore.
"The knock on us all week was, a four-game winning streak was against nobody," Strunk said. "Well, I've got news for you; we're beating all the teams everyone else has beaten."
For most of the second half, Durant appeared poised to stage the most dramatic rally ever at Ron Frost Athletic Complex. Down 19-0 at halftime, the Cougars scored on the second half's first drive, capped by Smith's 13-yard touchdown pass to David Claypool.
Plant City went four plays and out, followed by a nine-play Cougars touchdown drive finished by Smith's 2-yard scoring keeper. Connor Bass' extra point made it 19-14.
"I think we just got too relaxed," said Raiders quarterback Bennie Coney, a sophomore.
The next Raiders possession ended when Coney was stuffed on fourth and 1 at his 31 — a risky call Strunk said he makes often. Two plays later, John Hicks scored from 7 yards to give Durant (6-2, 2-1) a 21-19 lead with 18 seconds to play in the third.
Bass added a 32-yard field goal before the Raiders mounted their winning drive. Now, they await next week's Durant-Newsome contest. If Newsome wins, Plant City is district runnerup. If Durant wins, the Cougars, Wolves and Raiders would have to play a district tiebreaker.
"All I said (before the last drive) was, 'This is it. This is the season right now,' " Strunk said. "They responded."