EAST LAKE — Any coach will tell you the only numbers that truly mean anything in sports are the ones flashing on the scoreboard when the clock hits triple zeroes.
Put up more than your opponent, by any means necessary, and everything else is just gravy.
Through three weeks of football, the East Lake defense has been making it easy for the Eagles to be on the right side of those final scores – exceptionally easy, in fact.
Heading into Friday’s road game at Clearwater High, East Lake has yet to surrender a single point this season, consistently adding a fourth brightly lit goose egg on scoreboards at every Pinellas County field it steps foot on.
Three games, three zeroes. Final combined score: 119-0.
“Three shutouts. I don’t know if there’s much more you can ask for,” Coach Bob Hudson said Monday evening of his defense’s stellar start to the year.
After a couple years of being overshadowed by an explosive Pete DiNovo-led offense, the guys on the other side of the ball are now playing like they’re ready for a little bit of their own limelight.
The Eagles’ last shutout came when this crop of seniors were freshmen, in 2010, a 31-0 home win over St. Petersburg’s Northeast. The three match East Lake’s shutout total in the past five seasons combined.
“They’re starting to take a lot of pride in it and it’s becoming their motivation every day in practice,” Hudson said of the unit’s efforts to see how long it can stretch this run of blankings.
And while there can be an element of luck involved in delivering a shutout — one can be instantly ruined by an offensive turnover returned for six, for example — this Eagles defense has been handling its business with marked dominance.
Only once — once in three games — has an opponent even managed to mount a serious scoring threat against East Lake. That came in the first quarter of Week 2’s big 22-0 win at Largo High, when the Packers put together a seven-play, 55-yard drive that East Lake linebacker Carson Lydon’s interception abruptly snuffed out.
Just two other Largo drives made it across midfield that night. In Week 1’s 49-0 victory over Palm Harbor University, the host Hurricanes stepped over the 50 once. Rebuilding and out-matched Dunedin rarely threatened to reach scoring territory in last week’s 48-0 loss during East Lake’s home opener.
Given the Eagles’ deep and talented unit, Hudson said it’s hard to peg down what’s fueling this year’s unprecedented start.
“I can’t really say,” he said. “It’s all of their efforts combined, keeping the excitement up, everyone getting to the ball, all that.
“We knew we had a pretty good group coming back, but then the guys that have filled in have done a great job, too.”
That returning corps of experience, buoyed by the up-and-comers, has also managed to keep registering momentum stealing or squashing splash plays. East Lake’s forced seven turnovers, sacked the quarterback nine times and hurried him on 23 total occasions.
As the 2013 season stretches through September and into October and beyond, Hudson said he knows the shutout streak will come to an end. He and his team also know that while it’s nice, it’s not the real stat they ultimately care about, either.
“Someone asked me last week if Dunedin would’ve gotten close, would I have put the starters back in. I don’t think so.” Hudson said, mentioning that the minutes of varsity experience picked up by non-starters may pay dividends later in the year.
“We know we’re going to get scored on eventually, but football’s a game of depth. You’ve got to have it so when the kids play they’re ready.”