WESLEY CHAPEL — Though he had been head coach for only a few weeks, Artie Meza was quick to praise the potential of Wiregrass Ranch’s offense during preseason practice.
People would be pleasantly surprised, he said. The Bulls would be quicker and more efficient than last season.
But after losing a fumble on the fourth play of Thursday’s home preseason game against Mitchell, that seemed like an empty promise.
And behind a strong offensive line, Mitchell sustained long drives all night. It struck first with a 2-yard Anthony Connor touchdown run.
Once quarterback Shane Bucenell got a chance to show off his improved skill set, though, the Bulls didn’t look back. They went into halftime leading 13-12. The game then was called because of lightning.
Finishing 6-for-6 for 82 yards along with 44 yards rushing and a 1-yard touchdown, Bucenell was the standout of the shortened game. Aside from one bad read, Meza said, his senior was essentially perfect.
“I kind of expected it,” said Meza, who was promoted from co-offensive coordinator on July 24. “Minus the fumble, we were uptempo. We executed.
“We got our blocks on the perimeter. Shane read the zone read well.”
Wiregrass Ranch’s defense was a different story.
The Bulls gave Alec Lambert all day to throw, and the junior took advantage, going 11-of-16 for 114 yards as the Mustangs held possession for nearly 10 minutes in the second quarter. He also scored on a 1-yard run to give Mitchell a 12-7 lead.
“We had kind of gotten to the point where our run game breaks down, we really haven’t had as much of a passing game,” Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz said.
“We really want to be balanced and take what the defense gives us, which I thought we did a pretty good job of tonight.”
Spending most of Thursday on the field, the Wiregrass Ranch defense was visibly fatigued. It’s a problem his team has got to fix, Meza said, because some of its best athletes, including Florida Atlantic commit Jaye Miner, play on both sides of the ball.
And though he scored the first offensive touchdown of his career on a 20-yard screen pass in the first quarter, Miner said he looks at Thursday’s game as a wake-up call.
“I think we did okay; probably a C-plus … average,” Miner said. “We just have to get everything more crisp. We need to get to an A.”