The Cougars’ season came to an end following a 42-27 loss in the first round of their playoff run.
Durant hosted Ocoee in their regional quarterfinal matchup on Saturday, with their season coming to an end following a 42-27 loss to the Knights.
After Ocoee won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, Durant took the opening kickoff and started their first drive at the 27-yard line. Senior Calub Connell opened the drive with a pair of runs for a first down up to the 36-yard line but an incomplete pass and a sack on their next series left them facing a third-and-15 early. Setup behind the chains, quarterback Mike Ryan found receiver Jarden Cornelius over the middle of the field for a big gain across the 50 and up to the Ocoee 40-yard line. But despite the tough first down completion, a false start on first down moved Durant back again and ultimately led to a punt on fourth-and-14 three plays later.
Ocoee’s first drive started at the 20 following a touchback. After a short run for three yards on first down and a loss of one on a quarterback run on second down, the Knights converted on third-and-8 with a completion up to the 41-yard line. On the ensuing first down run, senior linebacker Jacob Reed came up with a huge tackle for loss to immediately put Ocoee behind schedule. An incompletion on second and a pass broken up by senior Xavier Peavy on third forced the Knights to punt and the Cougars took over at their own 16-yard line.
Immediately facing another third-and-eight after a sack on first and a 10-yard run from Connell, Ryan once again converted with a completion to Cornelius, but that would be it for the offense as the Cougars punted back to the Knights three plays later.
On the following drive, Ocoee was quickly backed up by illegal formation and holding penalties to set up first-and-23. A first down run from running back Keyondray Jones moved the Knights back to the original line of scrimmage at the 26 and a deep pass on second down was batted up in the air and ultimately hauled in by receiver Asaad Waseem at the Durant 42-yard line. Facing a third-and-five two plays later, a swing pass to Jones moved the Knights up to the 23-yard line and they opened the scoring on the next play as a screen pass to receiver Joshua Guerrier broke free up the left sideline, giving Ocoee a 7-0 lead to open the second quarter.
The two teams exchanged punts before the Cougars were finally able to get on the board themselves. After taking over near midfield at their own 26, a pair of carries from Connell moved Durant up to the Ocoee 40. A sack on first down lost 11 yards and left Durant with second-and-21 but Ryan picked up a big gain with a run to the left and a defensive holding penalty added on, putting the Cougars at the 28-yard line. Durant was once again moved backward with a loss of six on a first down carry and an incompletion on second left the Cougars with a long third-and-16. Cornelius hauled in the third down pass for a gain of just three but a personal foul on Ocoee gave the Cougars another free first down at the 12. A first down carry from Ryan was stopped at the line up scrimmage, followed by a holding penalty to set up second-and-22 and a loss of one on the second down pass to set up third-and-23. On the ensuing play, Ryan dropped back and immediately faced pressure from the Ocoee defensive front, but the sophomore quarterback was able to escape the pocket and find daylight up the right sideline for a huge 23-yard run to knot the contest up at 7-7.
But it wouldn’t take the Knights long to answer. Waseem gave Ocoee great starting field position with a kickoff return to the 47 and after two straight runs put the Knights at the Durant 35, quarterback Darien Wharton hit receiver Isaiah Alexis in stride for a long touchdown to put Ocoee back up 14-7.
Taking over with 2:54 left in the first half, Durant was quickly forced into a three-and-out and punted possession back to Ocoee who did not waste an opportunity to tack on one more score before the half. After moving across midfield to the 45, Wharton found Guerrier over the middle to the 27 before Jackson Keillor entered at quarterback and immediately lofted a touchdown pass up the right side to receiver Ahlston Ware on the next play, scoring to extend the Knights lead to 21-7 with just 23 seconds left in the second quarter.
Durant began the second half extremely strong, forcing a stop on Ocoee’s opening drive before clawing back into the contest with a 69-yard touchdown pass to senior Jeremiah Gines. The Cougars were unsuccessful on the two-point attempt, but closed the gap to one score. The Cougars then forced another Ocoee punt and punched back again as they moved right down the field and found pay dirt on the back of running back Alex Daley as he took a tough carry up the middle, through tacklers and dove for the end zone to seal a 20-yard touchdown run. Durant once again failed to convert on the two-point try, but they now trailed just 21-19 as the third quarter came to a close.
But in the fourth, Ocoee began to pull away. On their ensuing drive, Waseem found the end zone as he hauled in a curl route on first down before making one tackler miss and flying up the right sideline to give the Knights a 28-19 lead. Their defense stood tall, forcing a turnover on downs to give the offense possession back inside Durant territory, and Waseem hauled in a 21-yard touchdown reception three plays later to extend the lead to 35-19. And late in the contest – with 2:02 remaining– Ocoee was able to add on one final score as they chewed the clock and ran right down the field, finishing the drive with a short touchdown run from Jones.
Ryan would connect with Gines for a 30-yard touchdown in the game’s final moments, bringing the final score to 42-27 following the two-point conversion, but Ocoee would prove too much to overcome as Durant’s season came to an end at 8-3.
Their 8-3 record marks two consecutive eight-win seasons in the Cougars’ first two years under head coach Claybo Varnum after finishing 2021 at 8-3 as well, their highest single-season win total since going 8-3 in 2016. In his first two years at the helm, Varnum has now led Durant to 16 total wins, two playoff appearances, two wins over rival Plant City, their first win over rival Newsome since 2017 and their first district championship since 2014.