By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
The tape was studied on a Monday-morning film session as players listened carefully to coaches breaking down what they watched on the screen.
It’s an opening-week ritual that will never change, but if there was ever a week where the tape isn’t that necessary, it would be this one for Durant.
The Cougars will host district rival Newsome Friday night in the Class 7A Region 2 semifinals. It will be the second meeting between the two teams this year, with Durant coming out on top 38-28 Oct. 18, at home.
Sure, there’s plenty more to learn, as coaches search for weak points and prepare the best possible game plan, but these two teams know each other, and both teams know what to expect Friday.
The earlier meeting came down to turnovers, an area in which Durant has been stellar in this season, with a plus-23 differential. Durant, a primarily run-based team, only has lost two fumbles this year, to go along with just five interceptions.
The Cougars have come up with 30 total turnovers this year, including two in the 34-7 win over Tampa Bay Tech in the regional quarterfinals.
“It’s just been one of those years,” said head coach Mike Gottman about the turnover game, comparing it to the year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl with a defense that scored and set up scores with takeaways. “We stress with our offense to take care of the football, and with defense, we want to create opportunities for our offense.”
Durant fumbled twice against Newsome in the earlier meeting but recovered both, while the Cougars defense came away with two fumbles and an interception.
“I’m sure they’re addressing that,” Gottman said of Newsome. “We just have to come out and play our style of football.”
Newsome has been playing like a team on a mission after losing to Durant and missing out on a district title. The Wolves haven’t allowed more than seven points in each of its last four games since, including a huge 52-7 blowout at Gaither in the region quarterfinals. Newsome’s defense held Gaither to under 140 yards of total offense.
“They look more hungry since the last time we saw them,” said Durant senior running back Zach Hooper. “They are basically out for revenge, and I know that, our team knows that, and our defense knows that. Nothing will be sweeter than to beat them twice.”
Although it seems that Newsome has had a new focus the last few weeks, the key to the Wolves success hasn’t changed. That success relies on the shoulders of senior quarterback Will Worth.
Worth passed and rushed for 135 yards each against Durant in the first meeting. That 135 passing yards was the most he’s thrown for this season. Worth had 181 rushing yards on 14 carries against Gaither last week, including two touchdowns.
“He’s a hell of a ball player,” Gottman said of Worth. “He’s very tough and physical, and we just have to get a lot of people at the point of attack and tackle lower than we did the first time.”
Durant has plenty of offensive firepower, as well. Running back Jamarlon Hamilton rushed for more than 100 yards for the eighth time this season, while Crispian Atkins and Zach Hooper each had long touchdown runs.
“I consider both those guys my brothers,” Hooper said. “I like to think of us as like a three-headed monster in the backfield.”
Contact Matt Mauney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• How Durant’s defense contains Newsome quarterback Will Worth. The standout senior passed for a 135 yards and a score and rushed for 135 yards against the Cougars Oct. 18. Durant did pick Worth off twice in the 38-28 win.
• How many big plays Durant can accumulate. The Cougars have been passing the ball more effectively the last few weeks and have three running backs — Jamarlon Hamilton, Crispian Atkins and Zach Hooper — who are able to make game changing plays at any moment.
• Which team will win the turnover battle. This is important every week, but in a game featuring two teams that like to run the football, ball control and ball security will weigh significantly on the outcome. Durant came up with three turnovers against Newsome in their first meeting.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
No. 15 Tyler Moody
The senior linebacker led his team in tackles (11) last week against Tampa Bay Tech. He has 65 total tackles on the year along with 3.5 sacks. Moody is one of the leaders for the Durant defense and will be a key in containing talented Newsome quarterback Will Worth.
No. 5 Zach Hooper
Durant running backs Jamarlon Hamilton and Crispian Atkins have garnered much attention this year, but it’s another option at that position who could give the Cougars offense an extra punch against Newsome. Hooper was involved in the passing and running game against Tampa Bay Tech. His 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Cougars a comfortable 27-7 lead.
FROM THE COACH
“It’s going to come down to who is more physical and who can create some turnovers. We did a good job of that against them the last time.” — Mike Gottman, Durant head coach