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Cotey: Diomi Roberts, already good, gets very lucky as well

Diomi Roberts has 1,251 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns for Countryside, which is the lone Pinellas team remaining.

John Schroeder | Special to the Times

Diomi Roberts has 1,251 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns for Countryside, which is the lone Pinellas team remaining.

Diomi Roberts wondered if he was taking off his jersey for the last time this season.

He wondered all weekend if he would play football the next week.

He wondered all day Monday if he would practice after school.

"I couldn't stop thinking about it," he said.

It wasn't until after he got out of school Monday afternoon that he finally found out his football season wasn't over.

Countryside junior Diomi Roberts is not only one of the best running backs around, he's also the luckiest.

• • •

On Friday night, Roberts broke through a few would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage and zipped toward the end zone.

No one was going to catch him.

He was on his way to a late touchdown to seal Countryside's 34-21 win over Tampa Bay Tech in the second round of the playoffs, keeping the Cougars undefeated at 12-0 and moving them into a dream rematch with defending state champion and nationally-ranked Plant in the Class 5A region championship.

He celebrated his clinching score with two big high steps into the end zone, held the ball tightly, basked in the adulation of his teammates and a took a well-deserved head pat from offensive lineman Tyler Moore.

It was the greatest moment of his football career. Then came his worst, preceded by a flag.

The Florida High School Athletic Association has a pretty simple rule: Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in one game equals an ejection, which equals at the least a seven-day suspension, or in this case, one game.

Roberts had already celebrated too much once Friday night and been penalized.

As he streaked toward the end zone a second time, he wasn't even thinking about that first flag.

But out of the corner of his eye, as he sped by, he saw the referee reaching for the second one.

Roberts deserved the first flag.

He didn't deserve the second.

What Roberts did was neither excessive, nor taunting, nor even much of a celebration.

It was, however, not very smart.

"In the heat of the moment, you've got to make smart decisions," coach Jared Davis said.

With one penalty to his credit already, Roberts had to know the ice would be thinner the second time around. That was pretty obvious as the official reached for his flag before Roberts had even crossed the goal line.

"I wasn't thinking about it," Roberts said Monday. "I just like enjoying myself on the field, and that moment I was enjoying. After I had done it, though, I realized I already had a personal foul."

In 2006, Land O'Lakes receiver Develin Robinson, the Gators' leading pass catcher and scoring threat, drew two flags for end-zone antics in the season finale.

Land O'Lakes appealed.

And was denied.

The result: he missed the playoff opener against Chamberlain the next week, a game the Gators lost.

• • •

Roberts has 1,250 yards rushing this season and 16 touchdowns. He is the key component in an offense that relies on its rushing attack and the strength of its offensive lines.

Countryside has a chance to beat Plant with him. But without him, those chances would have taken a severe hit.

Davis started his game preparation assuming he'd be without Roberts. He planned to use running back Terry Johnson more, maybe run a little wildcat, maybe pass a little more.

"We had kind of planned over the weekend to play without him," Davis said. "We had to be proactive."

As Roberts squirmed at home, Davis called around, looking for a shred of hope and praying an appeal would free Roberts to play.

He heard everything from a one-week suspension to three weeks and even six.

What he didn't hear was that there was a chance the referee would decide the penalty was too hasty or a poor call, or something not worth causing Roberts to be suspended, and request Saturday morning in the official report that it be retracted.

But that was what happened.

• • •

Roberts, a junior, is upbeat about his second chance.

"It just lifted a huge load off my shoulders," he said. "This is going to be the biggest game of my life."

An appeal would have changed everything. It is unlikely Countryside would have heard anything until later this week. The Cougars would have had to prepare for Plant without their best running back.

It would have been a distraction, and it definitely would have cast doubts on their chances.

And there's a good chance they would have lost the appeal. The FHSAA deals mostly in black and white, and overturning an officials decision is not the path the organization usually takes.

In this case, the official did it himself.

"Commendable," Davis said.

Or just lucky.


Playoff football

All games Friday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $7 for region finals (Class 5A-3A); $8 for state semis (Class 2A).

Class 5A: Countryside at Plant

Class 4A: Charlotte at Armwood

Class 3A: Ocala Vanguard at Jefferson

Class 2A: Belle Glade Glades Central at Robinson

Cotey: Diomi Roberts, already good, gets very lucky as well 11/29/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 29, 2010 10:09pm]
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