TRINITY — Moments after his team surrendered the lead to Mitchell late in the fourth quarter Friday night, Land O'Lakes quarterback Stevie Weatherford trotted onto the field toward the huddle. Once there, the junior kept his speech simple and to the point.
"I knew we could win, so I kind of told them, 'Let's play our game, score a TD and get it over with,' " Weatherford said.
With a playoff spot on the line, Weatherford completed passes of 45 and 24 yards on consecutive plays, the latter a scoring connection to Will Irwin with 1:45 left that gave the Gators a lead they wouldn't surrender. After Mitchell turned it over on downs, Weatherford took a knee twice to end it as Land O'Lakes escaped with a thrilling 21-17 win to reach the postseason for the 13th straight season, this time as Class 3A, District 7 runnerup.
"This is the best feeling I've had," Weatherford said.
On the flip side, Mitchell was understandably devastated.
The Mustangs (8-2, 5-2) came oh-so-close to a playoff berth. Behind terrific blocking from the offensive line and a gritty performance from tailback Ricky Trinidad (36 carries, 185 yards), the Mustangs twice scored go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth.
Trinidad produced both of them.
The second, a 5-yard run up the middle on fourth down, came on a direct snap and sent the Mustangs' homecoming crowd into a frenzy as Mitchell went ahead 17-14 with 2:21 left.
"Ricky was awesome," Mitchell quarterback Matt Michaels said.
Down, Land O'Lakes (8-1, 6-1) wasn't out.
"I was nervous," Weatherford admitted, "but the thing to do is not think about it too much."
On its winning drive, Land O'Lakes was stuffed on first down. But on the next play, Weatherford (10-of-17, 240 yards) escaped a heavy rush and found Alex Robinson racing down the left sideline to give the Gators first and 10 at the Mitchell 24. Before Mitchell could catch its breath, Weatherford hit Irwin in stride in the end zone on a post pattern.
"I was thinking, 'I've got to catch this ball; I've got to make this play,' " Irwin said.