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Plant City Observer Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 4 weeks ago

Game of the Week: Jesuit at Durant

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Durant’s got a tough opponent for its 2018 season opener.
by: Justin Kline Sports/Associate Editor

Justin Kline

Sports/Associate Editor

 

One of Durant’s primary goals for the 2018 season is to get better every day. Whether they’re able to pull off another upset win over Jesuit this Friday or not, head coach Mike Gottman and the Cougars just want to see improvement.

“We’ve got to improve this week on the miscues,” Gottman said. “We’ve got to do a better job at recognizing what they’re trying to do and we just didn’t do that in our first rodeo.

Last week, Durant went to Blake for their preseason game and took an 18-13 loss to the Yellow Jackets. Gottman said he was pleased with the way the defense “hustled” and battled against short field, but acknowledged the unit still has a “long ways to go.” The offense pulled off some big plays but struggled to drive and block. Gottman said the game highlighted the key areas the Cougars must work on throughout 2018: fundamentals and discipline.

“We realized that we’ve got to get more fundamentally sound,” Gottman said. “We made way too many mistakes. We had too many penalties, short fields, just too many uncharacteristic Durant plays. The late hits and stuff like that. We just fell into that trap of responding and being reactive and it cost us, I don’t know, three or four unsportsmanlike (conduct) penalties. We just can’t have that.”

Jesuit has been one of the Tampa Bay area’s most consistently solid programs over the years, but 2017 was kind of a “down year” for the Tigers (who still made the playoffs, but lost four regular-season games). That started with a 14-10 loss to Durant in Tampa. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but the Cougars and Tigers’ last two preseasons have been parallel to each other: both picked up blowout wins in 2017 (Jesuit beat Gaither, 41-7, and Durant beat Blake, 44-6) and took losses this year. Jesuit hosted the Cowboys last week and, despite getting all the way to Gaither’s 16-yard line with 17 seconds left in the game, failed to score and lost 7-4.

To some, that might signal a legitimate down year for Jesuit, despite returning elite players like Dane Belton and Larry Hodges. The Cougars aren’t looking at that 7-4 score and taking the Tigers lightly, though.

“They’re fundamentally sound. They’re not gonna beat themselves,” Gottman said.

Durant’s plan is to keep experimenting with putting players in different positions to see what works best and gives the team the best chance to be successful. Gottman’s goals for Friday — besides pulling out a win, which is always atop the coach’s list — is to clean up mistakes and for the Cougars to play some fundamentally sound football of their own.

“We’ve just got to improve as a team,” he said.

 

OTHER AREA ACTION

PLANT CITY

at Jefferson, 7:30 p.m., 4401 W. Cypress St., Tampa

The Raiders looked strong against Spoto last Friday night, cruising to a 42-7 win at home thanks in large part to a stingy defense and the offensive trio of Braxton Plunk, Mario Williams and Zamir’ Knighten. 

Jefferson looked solid in its 53-0 preseason win at Newsome. The Dragons’ passing game upgraded big time with quarterback Tyler Thomas and wideouts Ahmarean Brown and Joe Hodge transferring to the school in the offseason. Thomas, in particular, may give the Raiders fits: the dual-threat quarterback’s ability to make plays with his arm as well as his legs, combined with the return of running back Niko Duffey, means Jefferson just might have one of the deadliest offenses in the county. Jefferson beat Plant City by one touchdown, 21-14, in 2017 and this year’s Raiders would love to win the rematch.

 

STRAWBERRY CREST

at Spoto, 7:30 p.m., 8538 Eagle Palm Drive, Riverview

After the Chargers’ 20-7 win over Seminole last week, Strawberry Crest is in a pretty good mood. Hearing of Spoto’s loss to Plant City must have helped there too.

Last year, the Spartans came to Dover and left with a 32-13 win fueled by a 20-point third quarter. The Chargers held a lead over the Spartans until the second quarter when Spoto took over the game and shut Crest out until late in the fourth quarter. Though Crest won’t have the benefit of facing Spoto at home this year, things are looking good for head coach Ron Hawn’s Chargers early in 2018.

Justin Kline is the Sports/Associate Editor at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering all things sports-related in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World since 2013, and hosts the weekly Gridiron Report podcast during high school football season.

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