After years of disappointment, it may not have been the win Pinellas County was looking for. But the result is the same: The Class 5A, District 8 high school football race is starting to look like something other than a Sarasota Riverview walkover.
Top-ranked Riverview, winner of 30 straight games against Pinellas competition, this week forfeited two games, one of which was a 35-3 win over Seminole on Sept
18. That dropped the Rams to 1-3 overall, 1-1 in the district. With Seminole and Clearwater 1-1 and Dixie Hollins and Northeast 1-0, the forfeit opens tantalizing possibilities for Pinellas 5A-8 fans.
The last Pinellas team to defeat the Rams was Dunedin in 1987.
Rams coach John Sprague found out from his principal last Friday _ before the Rams' 20-0 win over Pinellas Park _ that one of his players lived out of the school zone. After the player confirmed it, Sprague went back and looked at the films to determine when the student had suited up. Sprague declined to name him.
"When I saw he had suited up, I called my principal and told him we had to forfeit those two games," Sprague said. "Saturday was probably the worst day of my life."
The player, a junior non-starter in his first year of football, told Sprague he moved out of the Riverview zone into the Sarasota High zone this summer. According to Rick Nations of the Sarasota County School Board, the student never lived inside the Riverview zone.
"No coach will put a kid on the field if there's any chance of forfeiture, especially if the kid doesn't play," Sprague said. "But if the kid doesn't tell you, there is no possible way of knowing. It's all beyond your control."
Riverview forfeited a season-opening non-district victory over Bradenton Manatee, also because of an ineligible player. The latest incident cost the Rams a non-district win over Stuart-Martin County in addition to the district victory over Seminole.
"The bottom line is that Riverview really hasn't lost anything, because all the other teams in the county still have to beat them to win," said Northeast coach Jerry Austin, an assistant for Seminole in the 1970s. "The only team that gained anything from Riverview's forfeits was Seminole."
Clearwater defeated Seminole 7-0 last week.
_ Staff writer Liz Robbins and correspondent Wayne McKnight contributed to this report.