ST. PETERSBURG — One game, two distinctly different emotions at its completion.
Countryside was beyond pleased with the outcome of Friday’s Class 6A play-in game. Mixing in a newly-installed Wildcat offense that turned loose a physical offensive line as well as their athletic backfield, the visiting Cougars rolled to a 28-12 victory, their first playoff win since 2010, and will travel to Springstead next Friday.
And beyond the sadness of a postseason game lost and the end of its season, Northeast had to say goodbye to coach Jeremy Frioud. After seven seasons at the helm of the Vikings, Frioud announced in the lead-up to Friday’s contest that he would be stepping down. Northeast finished with a 4-4 record while Frioud departs with a 32-35 mark.
“The Wildcat is probably the best thing that Coach (Eric Schmitz) has put in,” said senior Leroy Lopez, who ran the attack on alternating possessions with Countryside’s traditional shotgun formation. “We just run the ball and we pound. It’s man on man, it’s physical. I love it.”
“We used it just a little bit here and there to work it in,” Schmitz said. “We get more comfortable with it, then we can bring it out. We let the guys take the direct snaps, take the ball and do some special things with it.”
Sophomore Terrance Jackson (eight carries, 81 yards) was the first to shine on the Cougars' initial possession, following a Carson Burbee block before a sweet 90-degree cut opened the field for a 24-yard touchdown run and a lead Countryside never lost.
Lopez (12 carries, 76 yards) got his shots in the second quarter, jump-cutting past a Viking defender for a 42-yard jaunt to the house followed by a disciplined sweep around right end and a 7-yard scoring carry set up by a Josiah Whetzel fumble recovery for a 21-0 cushion.
“It’s so great when the offensive line goes off and they push forward,” Lopez said. “Last week they gave me three touchdowns and this week they gave me two.”
Countryside wrapped up its scoring with a 76-yard march and a 1-yard Zyterius Watts touchdown trot early in the fourth quarter.
But the hallmark of a Frioud-coached team is to never quit, and the Vikings answered Watts' score with a 69-yard series driven by sophomore Markese Norfleet (119 yards Friday, 1,060 for his inaugural varsity season) and capped by quarterback Frank Dobson’s 6-yard run.
Northeast’s other score came in the final minute of the first half on a drive featuring Datarian Kincade, who picked up 40 of his 96 rushing yards on the march, including his 5-yard touchdown run.
Frioud was too emotional to comment post-game, but a treasured friend — Marcia Welch, the mother of Jacquez Welch, a four-year varsity athlete who died last season — was more than willing to step up.
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“This was my son’s second home, so to these boys, (Frioud) meant a lot more than just a coach,” Welch said. “He’s a mentor, he’s family — he’ll always be family, and he’s a great man. He’s always a phone call away. Personal calls? He took them. Anything outside of the football field? He was there. It’s always been family. He took that seriously.”