VALRICO — The setting can be overwhelming.
The state championships lurk. The turf is professional level. The stadium overhang spits deafening noise right back on top of the field. And the rowdy Plant faithful, who have known nothing but winning for nearly a decade, can feel like they're in the huddle calling the play.
Dad's Stadium has been known to chew up opposing teams, but last Friday, Bloomingdale nearly left South Tampa with a victory.
"I think we shocked some people," Bulls' quarterback Isaiah McIntyre said.
The Bulls lost to Plant 50-40 but earned something not measured by the scoreboard. The Panthers have beaten the Bulls by a combined 104-27 the past two seasons.
"I think we turned some heads in the county," Bloomingdale coach John Booth said.
And for a school that has only reached the postseason once in its 26-year history, making a game out of it against the four-time state champs Panthers was a big deal.
Or was it?
"Honestly we weren't too happy," McIntyre said. "We had a 21-7 at one point. We thought we could win that game."
Booth said his team's post-game reaction made him the proudest.
"They were hurt and upset," he said. "They felt they let an opportunity slip away. They weren't satisfied and as a coach, you want to see that."
But there are plenty of reasons for the Bulls to think the playoffs are a possibility. Bloomingdale (2-1) hosts Plant City (3-0) tonight in a nondistrict game before getting into the meat of its schedule against district foes Alonso, Wharton, Newsome and Riverview.
"It's a very tough district for sure," Booth said. "But I think we have a shot."
And McIntyre is the main reason his coach is optimistic. After flashing potential as a freshman, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has come into his own this season, throwing for 609 yards and running for 218 through three games. McIntyre has 11 total touchdowns and ranks second in the county in total yards behind dual-threat Jefferson quarterback Deiondre Porter.
"The biggest difference between last year and this one is the amount coach has thrown at me," McIntyre said. "I am a lot more confident and the team is a lot more confident because of that."
Booth said he has seen a big jump from last season to this one from his young signal caller.
"Isaiah is a quick learner and he's recognizing when to get rid of the ball," Booth said. "He's a talented kid and getting more and more comfortable."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.