TAMPA — Spoto was still finishing off Friday's 24-0 win over Middleton when lineman Jounelle DeRidder started planning one of the biggest celebrations in Spartans football history.
Spoto's upset victory was its first of the season, ending a nine-game losing streak and all but sealing the team's first playoff appearance since 2008. All DeRidder had to do now was decide what to do with the plastic Gatorade tub his teammates had filled to the brim.
DeRidder has had plenty of time to weigh his options as his Spartans (1-7, 1-1) dominated from the start in their most important game of the season. Spoto will clinch the No. 2 spot in Class 5A, District 9 next week if Middleton (2-6, 0-1) loses to Jesuit.
"All the other games that we lost, we said it doesn't count," Spoto coach Dale Caparaso said. "This one counted."
Caparaso's young Spartans played like Friday night was all that mattered. Spoto unleashed a trick play — a 61-yard double pass — on the first play from scrimmage, setting up Josh Battles' 1-yard touchdown rush three minutes into the game.
Led by Ishmeal Knight and Mike Densen, the Spartans sacked Middleton quarterback Marcellus Ray five times and held him to 14-of-38 passing.
Senior James Bethea contained 1,000-yard receiver Shug Rhynes, who finished with only four catches for 59 yards and no touchdowns. Middleton never got inside the Spartans' red zone.
"They shut them down," Spoto quarterback Kevin Hobley said.
And they gave Hobley and the offense three pivotal scoring chances at the end of the first half. After one three-and-out, Hobley, a 5-foot-11 junior, eluded a third-down blitz and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Sirbaron Holmes to extend the Spartans' lead to 12-0.
Three plays later, Justice Hunt recovered a fumble for Spoto. Hobley made the Tigers pay on fourth and 18 by evading another rush and firing a 32-yard jump ball to Todd Simms.
And after Traverrian Williams intercepted Ray on the next play, Hobley converted another fourth down with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Patrick James.
As the final seconds slipped away in Spoto's biggest win in years, DeRidder finally made his choice. The October air made it too chilly for the players to douse their veteran coach in ice water. He might catch a cold.
So DeRidder filled and hid a half dozen plastic bottles. Then, when the handshakes were over and his team gathered to celebrate, he popped them like champagne, spraying the ecstatic Spartans as they screamed into the night.
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.