Durant 49, Freedom 20
In Durant’s first full game of action with new head coach Claybo Varnum at the helm, even if it was only a preseason contest, the Cougars won in dominating fashion over the Freedom Patriots last Friday night.
“We started a little bit shaky, getting some jitters out and trying to get some things fixed but the offense came out firing,” Varnum said. “The starting offense scored every time they touched the ball. Special teams gave up one touchdown, defense gave up the other and then the last score was in garbage time, we put our young guys in for the third and fourth quarter.”
The game provided a half of experience for the starting unit, specifically the offensive line as it was their first game all together, and valuable reps for their young depth in the second half.
“This is the first time for this offensive line, for all five of them to be playing together,” Varnum said. “They definitely took care of business. Even penalties and things like that couldn’t keep us out of the end zone so that was nice to see.”
Varnum praised the Cougars’ effort and added that the most glaring things that needed to be addressed coming out of the game were some discipline issues, but was confident in the team’s ability to right those mistakes heading into Week 1.
With starting running back Alex Daley out with injury, Durant entered the game with questions remaining at the position. Caleb Connell, a junior who also acts as one of the team’s starting safeties, stepped into the position and provided solid production out of the backfield, with a touchdown and over 50 rushing yards in one half of work.
Another surprising standout that shined bright for Durant was a newcomer to the roster, freshman Jayden Cornelius. Although he worked largely with the second unit, he showed flashes on the defensive side of the ball with two interceptions, a touchdown and a recovered onside kick.
“Other than that, the guys who we expected to play well showed up and played well,” Varnum said, pointing specifically to upperclassmen Austin Lewis, Jacob Reed, Austin Bovee, Jeremiah Gines and quarterback Marcus Miguele.
“Overall I think we did a good job,” Varnum said. “And I was really proud of those young guys for going in there and not letting the throttle up, continuing to score points and getting stops.”
Lake Gibson 56, Plant City 24
With a fair amount of new starters on offense, some on defense and limited depth, Plant City took advantage of their preseason game by getting the first string unit significant work, playing them into the fourth quarter against Lake Gibson.
Despite the lopsided finish, head coach James Booth would argue that the game was closer than the final score would appear — taking a three-point lead into the half with a case to be made that it could have been larger if not for missed opportunities.
In the second half Lake Gibson pulled away, but Booth sees that adversity as an opportunity to learn for an inexperienced group.
“I thought that our kids were competing well and playing hard,” Booth said. “And then going into the second half we had certain situations where our inexperience really showed itself. Things like down and distance purposes, forcing throws, pressing on throws and not making correct reads. That kind of led to some errant turnovers and really flipped the momentum in their favor.”
Those mistakes, especially committing them against a Lake Gibson team that finished 12-2 en route to a Regional Final appearance in the Class 6A State Playoff last season, can compound quickly.
But overall that’s what preseason games are for and exactly why Booth wanted to play against a high level of competition in that game. He argued that when you play against good teams it shows some things and that it exposes some things, allowing everyone to grow from those flaws and providing an opportunity to correct those issues before the regular season begins.
And the case was similar on both sides of the ball for the Raiders last week, with the offense and defense both executing well for a competitive first half before inexperience and swings in momentum began to take over.
“I thought that it was a good opportunity for our guys to learn situational football,” Booth said. “How to handle those stressful situations and hopefully looking at it, watching the film, using those teachable moments we can improve on and minimize those moving forward.”
Palm Harbor University 17, Strawberry Crest 6
Strawberry Crest’s biggest goal for their preseason kickoff classic was to make sure that all of their players were able to take advantage of the preseason game, playing a majority of their starters in the first half before getting the rest of their backups action in the second half.
Following the tone that was set in their scrimmage games the week before, the Chargers’ defense once again put together a solid performance. The score was just 3-0 at the end of the first quarter and according to head coach Phillip Prior, it was just a few select lapses on that side of the ball that allowed the Hurricanes to put points on the board late.
“Our defense played phenomenal again,” Prior said. “Our defense played great. We gave up one big play and a couple of penalties that led to the score, but other than that they were pretty much shut down. They gave our offense great field position.”
Offensively the Chargers were largely unable to convert their drives into points, but Prior was pleased with the process.
“We did some good things on offense,” Prior said. “We had a couple of big plays, we had a couple of sustained drives, we just didn’t punch the ball into the end zone. I think we had the ball inside the red zone twice and we came away with no points so that’s something that we have to focus on this week in practice. When we do have those opportunities, we have to make the most of them.”
In an effort to be multiple, not just in their alignments but in their packages as well, the Chargers will use a rotation at the quarterback position and the running back position to take advantage of strengths that different players provide.
“Kind of the same thing as the quarterback position, we have a rotation back there and we’re going to get different guys in who do different plays well,” Prior said. “Ryan [Weems], the first play of the game was reminiscent of his play in the scrimmage, he broke down the sideline for about a 20-yard gain or something like that. Then Miles Jones got back there and ran the ball hard. Devin Blount ended up scoring on, I think, a 70-yard touchdown. They all played well and like I said, we’re not going to be the team that has one guy at one position, everybody does something well differently and we’ve got to showcase those guys.”