Mitchell defense makes up for a sluggish offensive start

The Mustangs take advantage of multiple Sickles miscues and end the night in a three-way tie atop the district.
Football teams from around Tampa Bay are in action for Week 10 of the regular season.
Football teams from around Tampa Bay are in action for Week 10 of the regular season. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 26, 2019

TRINITY — Turnovers were Mitchell’s best friend Friday night. The Mustangs dominated the turnover margin 7-1 in a 39-13 victory over Sickles. And thanks to East Lake’s win over Pinellas Park, Mitchell (8-1, 4-1) is now in a three-way tie atop Class 7A, District 9 with hope remaining for a fifth consecutive championship.

On the second play from scrimmage Friday, the Mustangs recovered a fumble inside Sickles’ 10-yard line. Three plays later, Tyler Williams punched it in from the 1 for a lead that Mitchell never relinquished. Following Rob Graham’s 72-yard touchdown pass that pushed Mitchell’s lead to 12-0, Jonathan Fairbank nabbed the first of his three interceptions on the night.

Then the Mustangs’ usually high-powered offense uncharacteristically failed to finish on their next three possessions, which ended with two punts and an interception. No matter. Although Sickles drove the ball into Mitchell territory, the miscues stymied any momentum. An interception in the end zone was followed by a fumble at the Mitchell goal line.

When Sickles finally scored on Brandon Dessi’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Domanic Cabrera with 29 seconds remaining in the half, Garnell Wilds Jr. returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards and it was once again a two-score game.

The second half was more of the Mustangs offense we’ve come to know. Mitchell wasted no time opening the half with a seven-play, 78-yard drive capped by Ezra Brennan’s 12-yard TD run to push the lead to 25-7.

From there, Sickles could not hold onto the ball. The Gryphons’ next four drives ended in turnovers (one fumble, three interceptions) with Fairbank collecting interceptions No. 2 and 3.

“We played hard, we didn’t play great. When you play as hard and physical as we do, eventually you’ll get some breaks," Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz said.

Nic Fairbank also had two interceptions, and Rob Graham pitched in with his own to go along with 140 receiving yards and two TDs. Brennan threw for a 184 yards, with two passing touchdowns and two rushing. Sickles’ Dessi threw for a game-high 244 yards with two TDs.