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It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a Pinellas Park passing game

Sure, the Patriots still have a stellar stable of running backs, but the quarterback's got game.
Pinellas Park quarterback Brandon Coppola is feeling more comfortable as the starter with a year of experience behind him.  (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Pinellas Park quarterback Brandon Coppola is feeling more comfortable as the starter with a year of experience behind him. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published Sep. 12, 2018

PINELLAS PARK — Technically, Pinellas Park has a one-game win streak over Class 7A, District 10 rival East Lake. The Eagles had to forfeit last season's 17-16 win over the Patriots due to the use of an ineligible player.

Realistically, Pinellas Park has never beaten East Lake on the field in varsity football in 19 previous tries. If there was ever a year for the Patriots to break that streak, it's this year.

They have been dominant in wins over River Ridge, Northeast and Osceola, outscoring opponents 150-0. They are doing it with a stingy defense and perhaps the most well-rounded offense the school has ever had.

Junior running back Lawrance Toafili is no surprise. The Division I-A prospect has gained 438 yards on 26 carries (about eight carries a game) and has scored five touchdowns. Fellow junior Derek Bryant is right there with him with 381 yards and five touchdowns.

The difference is at quarterback. Junior Brandon Coppola has a year under his belt after guiding the Patriots to an 8-3 record last season. Coppola transferred from Dixie Hollins after his freshman season and fit right in.

Through three games, Coppola has completed 22 of 30 passes for 419 yards and six touchdowns. Pinellas Park, known as a wing-T offense with a run-first attitude, has a legitimate passing game.

"We could have thrown even more but in the first few games we were in 3 inches of water," Patriots coach Kenny Crawford said of the rain that has soaked fields on Friday nights.

Coppola played on junior varsity as a freshman. When he got to Pinellas Park, his zoned school, he competed for and won the starting quarterback spot. He made a good first impression.

"I had to get used to the pressure and the faster pace," Coppola said. "Once I got used to that I settled down. Plus, we have a lot of good athletes, so it's nice being able to throw the ball to them or hand it to them."

Coppola has thrown to six receivers this season. Five of them have at least one touchdown. Senior Rico Holmes has seven catches, two for touchdowns. Jaedon Williams and Bryant each has more than 100 yards receiving.
In the past, opponents would dare the Patriots to throw the ball. This season Pinellas Park is much more well-rounded.

"No doubt about it," Crawford said. "We've had some good players in the past. Now, we can leave L.T. (Toafili) in the backfield and we can throw to Rico (Holmes), or we can throw to Jaedon (Williams) or Derrick (Bryant) or Brenyen (Scott). … Teams don't know what we're going to do."

And unlike last season, there was no quarterback competition. Crawford knew exactly who his starter would be and he was able to open up the offense more. Coppola said he didn't take much time off preparing for this season.

"I felt I'd grown after the sophomore year," Coppola said. "What I wanted to do in the offseason is get stronger so that I can have more muscle in my throw."

Coppola was the starter in last year's one-point loss to the Eagles. In fact, he just missed a two-point conversion pass to Toafili that fell a yard short with 18 seconds left.

East Lake is 2-1, with the lone loss to a talented Largo team. The Eagles are competitive every year, which is why Crawford and the Patriots are laying low this week.

"We'll just treat this like it's our biggest game of the season, just like we do with every game we prepare for," Crawford said.