By Matt Mauney | Staff Writer
It’s still early in the high school football season, but a few things are beginning to come into focus.
Durant is coming off a state playoff appearance and a 7A District 8 title, and the Cougars — at least so far — look to be on pace to match that, if not better.
Durant is 2-0 this season and has outscored opponents 86-7, including a 29-0 shutout over Alonso last week. That was a statement win for the Cougars, not just on paper, but in how they won the game.
Durant had several key penalties in the first half that limited their offense to just one sustained drive that resulted in a short touchdown run by quarterback Trey VanDeGrift.
The Cougars got things rolling in the second half, and when Durant’s offense gets going — look out. The Cougars finished the game with 231 rushing yards, led by running backs Jamarlon Hamilton and Chris Atkins.
The tandem is a nice one-two punch for the Cougars, with Hamilton, the 5-foot-9, 215-pound fullback powering through the line, and Atkins finding holes to use his speed and eat up yards.
Hamilton already has 260 yards this season, while Atkins is nearing 200.
The scariest thing about the Cougars’ offense is that it is doing most of the damage on the ground. Durant is no stranger to running the football — the Cougars rushed for 272 yards per game in 2011 — but they have the ability to sling the ball around with VanDeGrift, a transfer that led the Strawberry Crest passing attack the last two seasons. VanDeGrift replaced Nick Fabrizio, now with the U.S. Naval Academy. Fabrizio was a big part of the Cougars’ ground attack last season, but VanDeGrift poses a new dimension to the offense, and so far, he has led successfully, despite having limited passing attempts.
Up only eight going into the second half against Alonso — a team that beat the Cougars 26-5 last year — Durant built the lead to 29 points seemingly in the blink of an eye.
The success of Durant can’t be addressed without giving credit to the defense and special teams.
The Durant defense has allowed only seven points this year, which came in the season opener against Freedom with the game well in hand. They made some key stops last week against Alonso, and the pass defense did a solid job late in the game keeping the Ravens out of the end zone and preserving the shutout.
Alonso finished with 177 yards through the air and 105 on the ground.
The Durant special teams unit had another strong performance last week. Punter Sean Humphrey only had to punt three times but gave the Ravens a long field, averaging nearly 40 yards a kick, with a long of 46 yards. Three of four kickoffs from Daniel Bowers sailed into and through the end zone for touchbacks, eliminating any chance for a big play from Alonso’s return unit.
Zach Hooper also did good job on kickoff and punt returns, with a long return out to midfield to open the game.
Durant was coming off a 57-7 win over Freedom, where its special teams recovered two fumbles on kickoff returns and had a fake punt go for a touchdown.
Durant has a bye this week as it prepares for an away game against Brandon Sept. 21.
If the three phases of the game keep clicking and progressing the way they have for the Cougars, Atkins’ statement following the Alonso win may just come true.
“I can see us going undefeated into the playoffs,” the sophomore said.