LARGO — There are ways to bench your best player.
Like, right before a meaningless game you can afford to lose.
Before a game with a patsy you don't need your star for anyway.
For a quarter, or maybe a half, just to send a message.
Or, you can do it the way Largo coach Rick Rodriguez did it Friday night — on the eve of a highly anticipated region semifinal before your biggest crowd of the year against arguably the best team in Tampa Bay.
It was the toughest call I've seen a coach make all year.
My initial reaction: by benching Myrick Gwyn, his best playmaker, Rodriguez ceded what little chance his team had to win Friday's Class 4A region semifinal to Armwood.
It made little difference in the outcome.
So let the debate begin — was it the right decision?
Should he have bought the excuses — a missed ride, a dead cell phone — and is he crazy to suggest a kid walks 5 miles to practice if he has no other way to get there? Heck, this isn't 1975 anymore. Or 1985. Heck, it's not even 1995 anymore.
Rodriguez, however, is certainly consistent, having already dismissed his starting quarterback this season for a second violation of the same rule.
He made another hard decision — even harder, since Gwyn was not replaceable — when the easy one would have been to bend his rule, which says that if you miss an hour of practice, you sit an hour on Friday.
Two hours? Sit two hours.
A three-hour practice, like Gwyn missed?
A whole game.
Some fans weren't thrilled, calling for Gwyn to be inserted once Armwood raced to 21-0 lead on the way to a 49-3 win, as if to ridiculously suggest that somehow would make a difference.
Rodriguez had to dismiss his starting quarterback for skipping a second practice a few weeks ago, so what choice did he have? What message would he have sent letting Gwyn play?
A bad one.
"I have freshmen on this team, young kids," he said. "They need to know that this is how we do it here. Everyone knows the rule."
This is how you build a program. This is how you build commitment to that program.
The list of coaches who would have done the same this week is a short one.
So what Rodriguez did matters.
What didn't matter, in retrospect, was whether Gwyn played. You're wasting your breath if you think Rodriguez killed his team's season, because he didn't.
The Hawks were in their finest form. This was a team that has struggled at times this season, struggling to get past Sickles last week, and put it together against the Packers.
Unlike Largo, everyone showed up for practice this week.
"We had the best week," coach Sean Callahan said. "And this is what we got."
The offense was balanced and efficient.
The defensive line was dominant. Largo freshman quarterback Juwan Brown will be a good one, but he is only 14, and he was not ready for Theodore Jackson, Alton Bailey and David Tinsley.
On a few occasions when Largo managed to slow the wave of blue gobbling up its quarterback and running backs, guys like senior linebacker Coty Creech stepped up.
Making just his second start, he was the first one to sack Brown, and every time you looked at a pile of players, No. 52 was climbing out from the bottom of it.
That may be the biggest difference on the field between one of the best of Hillsborough County and one of the best of Pinellas County.
There's not a person Rodriguez could have suited up who would have changed any of that Friday night.