BRANDON — Twelve minutes.
That was all that separated Bloomingdale from the postseason for the first time since 2008 and just the second time in program history last Friday.
But in an unlikely twist of fate during a game the Bulls controlled from the outset, Wharton dashed Bloomingdale's playoff hopes with 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for a 30-23 win.
Those were just a few of the adjectives Bloomingdale coach John Booth used to describe the post-game locker room mood.
"It was a game we felt we should have won," Booth said. "And we had every opportunity to do so."
Booth, who finished 0-10 in his first year (2009), could lead his team to just the second winning season in school history with a victory tonight against Middleton. He's produced some significant accomplishments, but found post-game praise a little difficult to swallow considering the circumstances.
"We heard that night how good we played and everything," he said. "But it's very frustrating."
The points came in a hurry and landed with a thud. Jeff Keil scored with just over 10 minutes to play to cut the Bloomingdale lead to 23-16. Bloomingdale was stopped on its next possession, and Jeremy Jefferson took the punt back 86 yards to trim it to 23-22.
"That was a huge play," Booth said. "Our gunner on the outside took an inside route and gave him the sidelines."
But Bloomingdale still had the lead and the ball. The Bulls picked up a pair of first downs but on third down, Bloomingdale fumbled and Wharton recovered near midfield with 4:11 to play.
"Ideally we would have liked to get a first down there of course," Booth said. "And worst case scenario is we punt and force them to go 80 yards or so instead of giving them the ball at midfield."
Bloomingdale forced a third and 15, but Auden Tate made a circus catch along the sidelines for 18 yards and a first down. Three plays later, Keil punched it in for his third score of the night with 29 seconds to play.
"We had our chances," Booth said. "And it came down to a lack of execution."
It was a tough lesson for a program headed in the right direction.
There was the fumble. There was the blown assignment on punt coverage. There were the two third-quarter visits inside the Wharton 10 that netted only a pair of field goals. Now Booth has to get his team ready for the Tigers tonight in a game with only one thing on the line.
"Pride," Booth said. "We've been preaching since January weights to finish every set, finish every play, finish every snap. And we're going to finish it."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]