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Unlikely Tampa Bay area high school football teams eye playoff berth

Robinson football coach Mike Depue started his Saturday in the parking lot of a gas station at the corner of 50th Street and State Road 60 in Tampa.

In another car, in the same parking lot, was Spoto coach Dale Caparaso.

The two guys smiled, exchanged video footage of their teams — a common coaching courtesy — and scratched their heads.

Friday, their teams will meet to determine who goes to the playoffs.

"I think we both had a little sparkle in our eye," Depue said.

At the same point this season, Spoto had an 0-5 overall record, Robinson was 1-4 and Jesuit was 4-1 before another midseason slide knocked it out of contention in the district.

What's that? Uh Playoffs? Don't talk about — playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?

"I don't even know what to tell you," Depue said.

"We've gone from what was going to be a throwaway game to playing for a chance to go to the playoffs. It's crazy."

It's high school football, where, on Friday, 22 bay area teams will play for their postseason lives.

None, however, are more unlikely than Robinson.

•••

The high school football season is not a sprint, and it is not a marathon. It's more like an off-road race with bumpy terrain and forks in the roads.

And halfway through it, Robinson, Hillsborough County's smallest public school, had driven into a ditch.

Counting last year, the Knights had won twice in 15 tries, started this season without three starters who transferred, and were coming off a loss to King that DePue termed "devastating."

"We had been struggling, and it kind of left us scratching our heads," he said. "We didn't get it."

He only had to take that same team down to Sarasota and beat Booker there for the first time.

Robinson took a 17-0 lead on Booker. Then it blew it. Then it rallied back in front and stayed there.

Two days later, Depue was still marveling at his team's resurrection. He's not sure if it was leader D.J. Woods giving his team a "spiritual" boost or the two-quarterback system finally clicking or just fate.

"It turned on,'' he said. "I can't put my finger on it.''

•••

If Robinson makes the playoffs, it will probably do so with a 3-7 record.

It won't be the first time a team has made the playoffs with a losing record, but it will certainly renew the call by some for a revamped playoff system.

At least nine teams in Tampa Bay will finish with a .500 record or better overall, including either Tampa Bay Tech or Hillsborough, and not go to the postseason.

But Depue is not apologizing. If his team can pull off one more upset, it will be 2-2 in Class 3A, District 11, tied with Spoto (3-5 overall) and win the tiebreaker.

"People were putting the last shovelful of dirt on our grave,'' he said. "But we won the district game we had to to stay alive.''

•••

On Friday, Palm Harbor University might make the playoffs for the first time.

Clearwater Central Catholic will try to make them for the 13th straight.

Springstead and Tarpon Springs will play a do-or-die game.

And either Robinson or Spoto will secure their place in the postseason.

"We're grinning ear to ear,'' Depue said. "I think there's going to be a lot of energy at both schools. And it's going to be a blast at practice this week.''

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com.

Unlikely Tampa Bay area high school football teams eye playoff berth 11/02/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 2, 2008 10:08pm]

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