Carrollwood Day football coach Lane McLaughlin can’t help but lament his team’s season so far.
The Patriots lost one game on a last-second field goal, squandered a 22-0 lead another time and lost on a touchdown in the waning seconds of a third district game.
And yet, with three district losses, the Patriots’ season is not quite over because the truth is, in Class 2A, District 5, nothing is ever quite over.
In fact, I think Carrollwood Day just scored again.
Or was that Cambridge?
It may not be the best small-school football in Florida, but the eight (of nine) teams battling for the two playoff spots in 2A-5 are certainly offering some of the most exciting football in Tampa Bay.
Three of the teams are averaging more than 38 points a game. Three others are averaging more than 30.
Four have two district losses, while Canterbury and Admiral Farragut lead the way with one.
If things play out crazily on Friday, and they could, six teams could be tied for first.
Must-win games? Every darned week.
Oh, and Indian Rocks Christian just scored again.
So here’s what we have: a bunch of small schools with small rosters playing kids both ways trying to stop each other, and having, well, little success.
In this case, that’s not such a bad thing.
“We’re like the NBA of high school football,” said McLaughlin, and he’s right but only if you’re talking about the NBA that Doug Moe coached in.
The reason for the excitement, the scoring or, if you prefer, lack of defense is the nature of the small-school game — the stars have to rest sometime, and sometime is usually on defense.
By the way, Admiral Farragut just scored another touchdown.
“This is small-school football, and everyone is going both ways,” said Blue Jackets coach Chris Miller. “You don’t have time to install an array of schemes and blitzes and stunts. You try to keep things simple on defense and bring your creativity to the offense.”
Miller says he has as many as eight of his two dozen or so players going both ways. So he has to be selective, for example, when to put players like running back Toddrick Macon, who has to carry the offense, in on defense.
Same goes for, well, everyone.
And despite those efforts, the two-way game is a grind, and in the end, players are tired and others get hurt and the offenses surge.
The next thing you know, Carrollwood Day’s Robert Davis and Macon have combined for 500 yards and eight touchdowns in the same game. Which really happened, by the way.
In fact, I think that was just Davis scooting into the end zone for another touchdown.
But don’t mistake the production for a reduction in talent. Sure, the rosters are smaller and so are the players, but give me Davis and Macon and Indian Rocks Christian tight end Sean Culkin and Admiral Farragut safety Rayshawn Jenkins and Canterbury’s Brent O’Neal any day of the week, even on Friday nights.
“Every team,” said Miller, “has their fair share of good athletes.”
O’Neal is the poster boy for Tampa Bay’s small-school football scene. He is 5 feet 11 and a solid 190 pounds. He leads the area in rushing, is deadly on returns, has picked off a few passes and does his team’s punting.
You can gripe about the level of competition, or whether he could start for bigger public schools (he most definitely could), or whether he can play college ball (he most certainly will), but there’s no denying O’Neal can play football.
It may not be the greatest football ever played in 2A-5. There may not be a state contender in the bunch. And maybe the defenses are just that bad.
But it is fun, it is exciting and so far, it has been remarkably unpredictable.
That’s plenty good enough for Friday nights.
Oh, and while you were reading those last few paragraphs, I think Canterbury just scored again.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.