What a difference a year can make.
This time last year, the Durant Cougars and Plant City Raiders entered their annual rivalry game on different sides of the spectrum.
Durant was 4-0, well on its way to its first undefeated regular season. The Raiders were 3-1 but would lose five of their last six after going into their game with the Cougars.
This year, Durant still is searching for that first elusive win with a young and inexperienced team, while Plant City comes off its bye week at 2-0 after a 33-0 win over Wharton.
This year’s battle for the James L. Redman Cup is also the district opener for both schools, so although they enter the game on opposite sides of the win-loss standings, the district and the two available playoff spots are up for grabs.
The Raiders are breaking in their new up-tempo offense, but it’s Plant City’s defense that has impressed so far this season.
The Raiders only have allowed three points this year, coming on a field goal in the season opener against Steinbrenner. The only other score allowed by Plant City this year was on a 83-yard punt return by Steinbrenner’s Kezio Snelling.
“We were thrilled with what our boys did against Wharton,” defensive coordinator Greg Meyer said. “We feel like we underperformed against Steinbrenner, and that’s no disrespect to them, but we expected to come out and do some things and got off to a slow start.”
Meyer said he saw a complete change in his defense in the Wharton game.
“Those kids were dialed in,and we knew they were going to play well,” he said. “Pitching the shutout was big, but to be honest, we have yet to play our best ball.”
That’s a scary thought. So far, the Raiders have recorded seven sacks, three interceptions, one forced fumble and nine tackles for loss in just two games.
The strong play of the defense has allowed the Raiders offense to ease into the new system. Plant City has had a balanced offense so far. The Raider passed for 185 yards and rushed for 164 yards against Steinbrenner, while they passed for 128 yards and ran for 158 yards against Wharton.
Head coach Wayne Ward isn’t taking Durant lightly for it’s 0-3 record, noting that they have a “brutal schedule” and are aggressive on defense. He said not turning the ball over, something Plant City did several times against Steinbrenner, will be key against Durant.
“The biggest thing is paying attention to the details,” Ward said. “If you turn the ball over and give up big plays on defense, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Durant head coach Mike Gottman wasn’t discouraged by his team’s 31-10 loss to Tampa Bay Tech last week, because he saw a fight and will to win in his young team.
“We gave up,” Gottman said in reference to the 28-0 loss to Sickles. “This week (against TBT), we played hard all four quarters. I really felt like we had a good week of practice and made some improvements. I know the score doesn’t reflect that, but I was proud of the effort.”
Turnovers and penalties have plagued Durant in all three games this season.
“It never fails,” Gottman said. “Every big play we get, it comes back. It’s been like that all year.”
Durant had a touchdown called back because of a penalty, and quarterback Trey VanDeGrift threw one of his three interceptions inside the TBT 12-yard-line down 24-10 with seven minutes to play.
Durant lost several seniors to graduation, including vocal leaders Alex Wood and Chris Smith.
“We’ve been asking our seniors to lead this team and show these younger guys how to do it, and they’ve tried,” Gottman said. “It’s a challenge every week, so we just have to hunker down and try and weather the storm.”
Gottman knows that with the district opener staring his team in the face, the season isn’t lost, but getting better fundamentally and limiting mistakes will be crucial if they want to rebound from their 0-3 start and make a run at a third straight district championship.
“In the grand scope of things, the game against Plant City is a huge game,” he said. “But what happens is, when you lose like this, you kind of lose your steam, so when something goes bad you have that ‘here we go again’ mentality, and that’s what we have to keep them out of.”
Durant took the James L. Redman Cup last year for just the second time since it was introduced in 2007. Plant City owns a 6-3 advantage in the series since 2004.
2004 — PCHS, 38-24
2005 — PCHS, 45-32
2006 — DHS, 17-13
2007 — PCHS, 14-13
2008 — DHS, 25-6
2009 — PCHS, 27-24
2010 — PCHS, 27-21
2011 — PCHS, 43-12
2012 — DHS, 22-7
JAMES L. REDMAN CUP
The rivalry trophy was added to the mix in 2007. Plant City won that game 14-13.
James Redman was a longstanding state representative and a Plant City native. He was also a lawyer for many years and active in the Plant City community.
The road named after Redman is also one of the connecting routes of the two high schools, which are separated by 10 miles.
Two of his grandchildren played for the schools, with Chip Bowden as Durant’s quarterback and Aaron Sullivan as the center at Plant City High. The two are only a few months apart in age, and both graduated in 2006 to go on and play in college — Bowden at West Point and Sullivan at Campbell University (N.C.). Their mothers, Redman’s daughters, are local principals — Pam Bowden, at Durant, and Susan Sullivan, at Tomlin Middle.
IN THEIR WORDS
Senior, QB, Plant City
“This is southwest versus Plant City is the way I see it. They came after us, so they’re wannabes.”
Senior, DE, Plant City
“We always have a bitter taste every time we play Durant. We want to bring that trophy back home where it belongs.”
Junior, RB, Durant
“The bragging rights are high. To have 365 days of bragging rights feels good, so we just have to go out and win.”
Senior, DB, Durant
“We came out 0-3, but that’s in the past. We’re going to have to take it as 0-0 and go out just like every game and try and win it.”