COUGARS 34 EAGLES 27

CLEARWATER – Leave it up to the math?

Countryside wasn’t having any of that Friday. The Cougars went toe-to-toe all night with nearby rival East Lake and won in dramatic, late-game fashion, 34-27.

The host Cougars entered the week clinging to the eighth-and-final seed in the Class 6A Region 2 standings, just .003 RPI points ahead of Fivay.

Losing against a quality team like East Lake may have kept Countryside in the mix after everything’s calculated, but a win? That would guarantee C-Side ended its three-year postseason drought. And that’s what quarterback Kamrhen Simpkins gave the Cougars when he raced around the right edge and into the corner of the end zone with 12.6 seconds left in regulation.

“Great blocking on that play,” Countryside coach Eric Schmitz said of Simpkins’ run. “They set up a nice hole for him and he ended up making a guy miss and getting in the end zone. Awesome way to end it for us.”

But just one minute of game time prior, it was East Lake who controlled momentum.

The Eagles scored the night’s next two touchdowns and turned Countryside’s 27-13 lead into a tie game with 1:15 left. East Lake began the fourth quarter by cutting that deficit in half with Dylan Rosiek’s 15-yard touchdown run. The junior deserves credit for the tying score when he intercepted a Simpkins pass at the Cougars 40 to set up the drive. Aided by a fortunate fourth-down pass interference call in the end zone, East Lake made it 27-27 when quarterback Matt Trotto swung out a pass to Rayshaun Williams and the senior sped into the end zone.

Rather than forcing overtime, however, the touchdown teed up Countryside’s exhilarating finish.

Simpkins dropped back on the drive’s first play and went deep down the middle. The pass slightly overshot senior Desmond Jones – until it didn’t. Jones laid out to secure a phenomenal 37-yard reception that moved Countryside from its own 21 to the Eagles 42.

Schmitz’s staff dialed up a run to Jaden Griffin next and the sophomore sliced through the East Lake defense for 23 more yards.

Suddenly Countryside was in field goal range with both time and time outs to play with. Rather than leave it up to a field goal attempt, the Cougars ran four more plays in the final 38.8 seconds. A pair of QB keepers by Simpkins got C-Side to the East Lake 8. After a fade route in the end zone fell incomplete, Simpkins made his winning dash to the goal line.

Simpkins ended his night 15 of 24 passing with 231 yards, two touchdown passes and an interception. He rushed for 34 total yards and the winning score.

Also producing multiple touchdowns in different fashions for Countryside was Aaron Baxter. The senior scored the game’s first points when he caught a 13-yard pass from Simpkins midway through the first quarter.

Baxter upped the level of difficulty with his third-quarter score. East Lake cut the Cougars’ lead to 14-13 with Joseph Sandorf’s 30-yard field goal and the Eagles defense followed with a quick three-and-out. A short punt and solid return gave East Lake possession at the C-Side 27 with a chance to take its first lead of the night. The Eagles got within 10 yards, but that’s when Baxter snagged a third-down Trotto pass in the end zone and took it to the house for a 103-yard touchdown.

Trotto went 16 for 33 with 106 yards, two touchdowns and the pick. Both scoring passes went to Williams, who totaled 10 catches for 64 yards.

East Lake (6-4) will now have to wait until Sunday morning to see if they remain in the Class 7A Region 3 playoff bracket. The Eagles entered with the region’s sixth-best RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) but as the seventh seed because of how the brackets are structured.

Each Region consists of four districts. The four district champions are guaranteed the top four seeds. Because District 7A-11 consists of teams with low RPIs, their champion, Lehigh, will vault from 10th overall to fourth. That bumps all the at-large contenders down a notch despite owning better RPIs.

East Lake entered the week with an RPI of .558. Three teams trailing the Eagles posed threats: Sarasota (.539), Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge (.537) and Bradenton Lakewood Ranch (.526).

Sarasota (6-4) lost 37-20 against 8-2 Sarasota Riverview. Seminole Ridge (6-3) beat 2-8 Wellington 10-0. Lakewood Ranch (6-3) edged 1-8 Seminole 21-13.

Bradenton Manatee and Pinellas Park, the teams immediately ahead of East Lake, won Friday.

For Countryside, the Cougars may jump up from the eighth seed. Their .522 RPI trailed No. 7 Boca Ciega (.548). The Pirates lost Friday at home against Clearwater, a District 6A-7 opponent of Countryside. The Tornadoes entered Friday with the region’s second-best RPI but can do no better than the top at-large bid because Largo won the district.

SCORING:

EL - 0 – 10 – 3 – 14 --- 27

CS - 7 – 7 – 13 – 7 --- 34

CS – Baxter 13-yard pass from Simpkins. Kick (Gregory) – 1st Q (7:32)

CS – Watts 1-yard run. Kick (Gregory) – 2nd Q (9:37)

EL – Sandorf 28-yard FG – 2nd Q (6:47)

EL – Williams 2-yard pass from Trotto. Kick (Sandorf) – 2nd Q (1:46)

EL – Sandorf 30-yard FG – 3rd Q (7:54)

CS – Baxter 103-yard INT return. Kick (Gregory) – 3rd Q (4:25)

CS – Lopez 77-yard pass from Simpkins. Kick blocked – 3rd Q (1:44)

EL – Rosiek 15-yard run. Kick (Sandorf) – 4th Q (11:23)

EL – Williams 10-yard pass from Trotto. Kick (Sandorf) – 4th Q (1:15)

CS – Simpkins 8-yard run. Kick (Gregory) – 4th Q (0:12)

TEAM STATS:

----------------------EL------- CS

First Downs----------19---------12

Atts./Rush Yds.---43-152----26-94

Comp./Atts./Int.---17-34-1----15-24-1

Passing Yds.--------149-------231

Net Yards----------301-------321

Fumbles/Lost-------1-1-------1-0

Punts/Avg.---------3-32.7---6-32.2

Penalties----------7-45-------16-158

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS:

RUSHING

EL – Rosiek (12-69, TD), Swetokos (16-64).

CS – Simpkins (11-34, TD), Griffin (5-28), Watts (3-9, TD).

PASSING

EL – Trotto (16-33 for 106, 2 TD, INT), Swetokos (1-1 for 43).

CS – Simpkins (15-24 for 231, 2 TD, INT).

RECEIVING

EL – Williams (10-64, 2 TD), Wolf (1-43), Sebesta (2-22).

CS – Lopez (3-89, TD), Jones (4-80), Baxter (2-13, TD), Hall (4-45).

PINELLAS SCORES

Dixie 55 Tarpon 12 (Wed.)

Clearwater 28 Bogie 18

PHU 10 Dunedin 7

Calvary 38 Cape Coral Oasis 14

CCC 35 Sarasota Booker 6

Lakewood 31 Dunbar 24

P. Park 49 Gibbs 0

Lakewood Ranch 21 Seminole 13

Weeki Wachee 44 Northeast 28

Palmetto 49 St. Pete 7

Largo 17 Wiregrass 16

N-Side Christ 36 SPC 35

Keswick 24 Inlet Grove 14

IRC 42 Holy Trinity 6

CAI 30 Braden River 28

Chiles 49 ACA 7

Farragut 1 Village Acad 0 (Forfeit)

PASCO SCORES

River Ridge 34 Key West 6

Fivay 34 Hudson 22

Mitchell 42 Wesley Chapel 13

LOL 20 Z-Hills Christ 6

Pasco 27 Z-Hills 9

Largo 17 Wiregrass 16

Cypress Creek 1 Gulf 0 (Forfeit)