(ran CTI LTCTNT)
Northside Christian's season came down to two games last year.
Both on the same night.
The Mustangs hosted district rival Shorecrest in the final regular-season game. A Northside win would have forced a three-way tie for first. Had Northside lost, it would have had to wait for the outcome of the Temple Heights-Lakeland Santa Fe game for a possible district runner-up finish.
Afterward, Shorecrest players went down on one knee and took three deep breaths to savor their 35-14 victory and a second undefeated regular season.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs raced home and placed calls, trying to find out the score from across the bay.
When they found out, the news wasn't good.
Temple Heights 34, Lakeland Santa Fe 14.
Coach Bob Dare and the Mustangs are used to hard luck. For the past three years, they have been one victory away from the playoffs.
This year, things could change.
With the running of Mark Johnson and an experienced offensive line, Northside will try to make its first playoff appearance since 1989. But the Mustangs will have to reach that goal with only a few players _ 22 to be exact.
To get the most from his team, Dare, a bible teacher, is using a proverb as a motivational tool. It reads: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
The message is not only meant to inspire, but to encourage and to teach integrity and commitment.
Through the air: Justin Klinger, the county's second-leading passer last season, graduated along with his three favorite targets _ David Yorkcq, Kevin Carr and Todd Clark. Klinger's understudy, Cory Hess, takes over at quarterback after rushing passers as a defensive end last year. At 6 feet 3, 195 pounds, Hess stands tall in the pocket and possesses a strong arm. He'll throw to a young group of receivers. Mark Miller and Paul Rutherford, backups last year, are likely starters.
On the ground: While the Mustangs kept putting up numbers through the air, racking up close to 2,000 yards passing, the ground game managed only 700 yards. Dare wants to double the rushing with a more balanced attack. Johnson, who rushed for 685 yards last year, starts in the one-back set. He'll run behind an experienced offensive line featuring Chris Johansen(6-0, 170), Robbie Bates (6-2, 220), Matt Rice (6-1, 175), B. J. Shelly (5-11, 172) and T. J. Keller (5-9, 145). All are juniors.
Defense, defense: When Dare looks at the depth chart, he doesn't have much. Many players go both ways. Scott Woodson, Bates, Hess and Johnson solidify the line. Johansen, the team's leading tackler the last two years, is a linebacker along with Rice and Shelly. Miller is the only returner in the secondary.
Just for kicks: Dan Boos returns as the kicker, but Dare is still searching for someone to replace Klinger, who also was a punter. . . . Bates is the only Mustang offensive lineman over 200 pounds. . . . Northside will be the first Pinellas County team to play district newcomer Fort Meade on Sept. 15.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: Bob Dare, seventh year of second term (51-31 in eighth season overall).
Assistants: Rich Kelly, Pat Stuart, Bill Ramsey.
Stadium: Brandes-Russell Field, 7777 62nd Ave. N.
District: Class 2A, District 6.
1994 record: 7-3 (third in district). Wins: Jacksonville Trinity 22-21, St. Petersburg Catholic 25-0, Admiral Farragut 14-0, Berkeley Prep 22-0, Lakeland Santa Fe 34-18, Indian Rocks Christian 62-0, Orl. First Academy 35-22. Losses: Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 34-6, Temple Heights 13-0, Shorecrest 35-14.
1986: Beat Frostproof 6-0; Lost to Belle Glade Glades Day 21-7
1989: Lost to Vero Beach St. Edward's 33-3