CLEARWATER — The moment came last season, a moment East Lake wide receiver Artavis Scott had been anticipating since he was a child.
He caught a pass, turned and saw a relatively familiar image, except the image was wearing a maroon-and-gold Countryside uniform and the eyes were tightly focused on causing damage.
Scott came head to head with Mike Johnson, a first cousin who is a defensive back for the Cougars. It was the first time the two were matched against each other in a high school game.
“We knew it was going to happen at some point and we talked about it,” Scott said of playing against Johnson. “It was weird. But we love competing, and we both went at it pretty good.”
Tonight, the rivalry resumes. The Cougars (1-0) host the Eagles (1-0) in one of the most anticipated games of the season. Neither team is in the same district, so this is for bragging rights and keeping perfect records intact.
For Scott and Johnson, the matchup is more personal.
Both are among the best at their positions and have major Division I offers to prove it.
Scott scares teams so much they make dramatic shifts in game plans to compensate for his athleticism. Even then, there is nothing anyone can do when quarterback Pete DiNovo throws the football up for grabs and Scott goes and gets it. He makes a bunch of other catches, too. Over the shoulder. Across the middle. Single coverage, double coverage.
Johnson cuts offensive playbooks in half, tilting the field horizontally while shutting down top wide receivers. Drive after drive, Johnson sends his man to the sideline, head shaking.
The two had a memorable meeting last season. Scott had six catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. Johnson had two interceptions, including one in the second half he returned for a score. But it was the catch Scott didn’t make that still haunts him. He dropped a bomb in the fourth quarter that would have given the Eagles a chance to win. Instead, Countryside prevailed 27-21.
“I was happy that (Scott) dropped the ball, but I still felt bad for him,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t talking at all. I told him he still had a good game and to keep his head up and not worry about it.”
The two didn’t waste time preparing for tonight’s game.
“Artavis has called me a few times, even stopped by my house,” Johnson said. “He’s always calling and telling how I should be playing or what I should be doing better. And he keeps talking during the game.”
“I don’t really talk that much,” Scott said. “I try to let what I do on the field speak for itself. But in the heat of the moment, we’ll definitely go at it a little bit.”
Next year, the rivalry ends. After that, the two want to join forces.
“We talk all the time about playing college together,” Johnson said. “We’re pretty close and we want to stick together.”