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Win makes believers out of Cougars

Durant's victory Friday over powerhouse Lakeland gives it a leg up in the district standings and the playoff chase.

By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002


DURANT -- Durant vs. Lakeland: Bands banging out fight songs, great play on the field, more than 3,000 screaming for the home team.

And no, the game wasn't at Lakeland.

It was at Ron Frost Stadium, where on Friday the Cougars pulled off what few thought possible.

They beat the Dreadnaughts, 28-17.

The victory pushed the Cougars to 3-0 and 1-0 in Class 5A, District 5, and maybe more important, it made them believe for the first time in their eight-year history that they can beat anybody.

"When you play Lakeland you know you're getting the ultimate test," Durant coach David New said of the Dreadnaughts, who before last season had a 55-game regular-season winning streak. "So beating them definitely gives us a lot of confidence."

And beating them the way they did, with a solid bend-but-don't-break defense and the strong running of Trae Williams (12 carries, 178 yards and all four Cougar touchdowns), gives them high hopes for the playoffs.

Lakeland dropped to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in the district, putting it behind three Hillsborough County teams: Durant, Riverview and East Bay, which are 1-0. "But," New quickly warned, "let's not get ahead of ourselves. First things first. We have Brandon this week and that is the game we're focused on."

New said he believes these Cougars, most of whom he has coached since they were freshman, won't look too far ahead or become overconfident. "You have to remember that last year was our first winning season (6-4)," New said. "We've been through our share of ups and downs and I think the kids know that they have to keep working hard in order to keep winning.

"There aren't a lot of big egos on this team. This bunch plays as a team and they put the team first. It's a special group."

It showed Friday.

Despite the fact Lakeland outgained Durant 484 yards to 297 and doubled the Cougars' first downs 22 to 11, Durant kept doing the things it needed to. Namely, keeping the Dreadnaughts out of the end zone.

Williams, meantime, was busting big runs to keep Durant ahead. He had touchdown runs of 5, 63 and 77 yards, and added a 97-yard punt return with a minute remaining in the first half.

"The punt return was a big play for them," Lakeland coach Bill Castle said. "After that we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times.

"But we knew they were a good team and we'd have to stop their running."

New said the same thing about the Dreadnaughts: "We were worried about them lining up and running right at us.But it seemed like our defense, when we really needed it, came up with a stop. That's the only way you can win a game like this."

-- Information from the Lakeland Ledger was used in this report.

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