PALM HARBOR — It was difficult to find something Durant didn’t do well Friday night at Palm Harbor University.
Junior quarterback Michael Ryan was spot on, completing 13 of 16 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns.
The Cougars’ running game was sound behind a stout offensive line, and junior Emmanuel Lee (10 rushes, 58 yards) turned a screen pass into a 40-yard touchdown reception.
The defense was relentless, collecting four sacks, a 47-yard pick-six by Quentin Pope and stops on four fourth-and-short plays, including one on Durant’s 5-yard line.
Add it up, and it’s no wonder the Cougars cruised to a 33-0 victory in the Class 4M region quarterfinal, their first playoff win since 2012.
“This is just a testament to how our guys practice hard and get after it every day,” Durant coach Claybo Varnum said. “Our guys just don’t quit. We coach them hard, and we’re tight on discipline, on grades, on everything.
“When it comes to the games, they’re ready because they’ve already gone through all the hard stuff in practice and in the classroom.”
Ryan, who set a school single-season record for touchdown passes with 22, said the team’s mindset for its playoff opener didn’t feel much different than for any other game. But he did acknowledge, “We probably had the best week of practice leading up to this that we’ve ever had.”
He also acknowledged that “things were really clicking (Friday). The play-calling was great, and everybody did the jobs they were supposed to do.”
The stat sheet showed the diversity, with five different Cougars scoring, including four on touchdown passes: Jayden Cornelius (49 yards), Treon Williams (47 yards), Lee (40 yards) and Chris Lankford (10 yards).
Durant (9-2) moves on to the region semifinals next Friday against Sumner, which defeated Riverview 33-28. In a previous meeting on Sept. 29, the Cougars defeated the Stingrays 28-27, handing them their only loss.
“(Sumner) has an excellent football team, and we expect a great rematch,” Varnum said. “We’ve gotten better through the season, and we’re really looking forward to this.”
Palm Harbor University ended its season 8-3.