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Playoffs: In or out?

The winning tradition. The annual drive to the playoffs. The long, storied run of postseason excellence.

None of those apply here.

Springstead and Clermont East Ridge, however, have certainly imitated those kinds of programs in a season where they have lost three games combined. Tonight, the first-time opponents face off in a game with major district implications.

"We haven't been there for a little while," Springstead coach Bill Vonada said.

It has been seven years since the Eagles' last district title and playoff appearance. Then again, in 1996, East Ridge High was an empty field and coach Bud O'Hara was coaching Leesburg.

"Brand new school, there's no pressure on us," O'Hara said. "We're not supposed to be here."

For a game that could decide Class 4A, District 6, Springstead-East Ridge is unusual. East Ridge is in its second varsity year; Springstead has been playing since the late 1970s, yet its two playoff years (1993, '96) are too long ago for any players to remember.

So forget the butterflies. Those may only exist when you've come up just short before. Springstead, finishing 2-8 last season, hardly knew what it was missing.

"I'm not nervous right now, thinking about it," Eagles quarterback Ian Wald said. "I think we've schemed correctly, and we can take this team with what we have."

Both coaches insist there are few new wrinkles in the game plan, no extra pages of playbook put in this week to trick on Halloween night. Springstead (6-2) will try to establish the run, and East Ridge (7-1) will mix in some three-wideout sets and try to spread the field.

Nothing the other one doesn't know about.

"If you go into a game an say "we've got to add this, we've got to add this,' then you don't do anything consistently," Springstead coach Bill Vonada said. "If you look at (East Ridge) they're the same way. They don't do a lot of things, but they do them very well."

East Ridge's balanced offense is run by senior quarterback Derek Bush, who had two touchdown passes last week against Leesburg and two scoring runs two weeks ago against crosstown rival Groveland South Lake.

Springstead, back on a two-game win streak after an early-October lull that saw back-to-back road losses at South Lake and Crystal River, pounds away with a running back corps led by Tim Dow and Quinden Floyd. The pair have combined for more than 1,000 yards, and when they're not running, there is a good chance Wald is (467).

"It worries me that they run it so well," O'Hara said. "Their quarterback is a dynamic player. He can hurt you throwing and running."

If the Knights win, the district title is theirs. Should Springstead win, there will be a three-way tie atop the district (including South Lake), and the three schools will require a tiebreaker tournament.

In other words, though Springstead has never played East Ridge before, its players are planning on seeing them again very soon.

"It's all come down to this," Wald said. "We worked hard all summer, all season for this game. We want to go on."

_ John Schwarb can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1407. Send e-mail to schwarbsptimes.com.

GAME-BY-GAME

Springstead (6-2)

SEPTEMBER

5 at Hernando W, 10-7

12 Citrus W, 40-18

19 Central+ W, 17-3

26 Lecanto W, 43-7

OCTOBER

3 at South Lake+ L, 19-18

10 at Crystal River L, 20-12

17 Leesburg+ W, 21-7

24 at Hudson W, 24-7

East Ridge (7-1)

SEPTEMBER

5 Celebration W, 42-0

12 at Orl. Univ. L, 34-16

19 at Lake Weir W, 52-0

26 Mount Dora W, 25-22

OCTOBER

3 at Central+ W, 20-16

10 Wildwood W, 48-14

17 South Lake+ W, 35-14

24 Leesburg+ W, 28-3

+ District game

Up next:KINGS

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