LUTZ — Four years, Aidan Bitter sat near the top of the bleachers to get a bird’s-eye view of his older brother, Brett, a star receiver at Steinbrenner.
Brett kept hauling in passes, setting the school’s career record for yards. The Warriors kept winning to reach the playoffs for the first time in 2015. And Aidan, then an eighth-grader, kept watching with the hope that one day he would be the one making those catches to help Steinbrenner reach new postseason heights.
“I spent a lot of time up in those stands just dreaming that I’ll someday have the chance to do big things on this field,” Aidan said.
This year, there was no more dreaming.
Aidan, now a senior, spent the past three years establishing himself as one of the Warriors’ most dependable receivers. The Iowa State commit also helped Steinbrenner go through a remarkable transformation from a two-win team two years ago to the program’s first district title winner, guaranteeing a first home playoff game.
On Friday, the Warriors’ season of superlatives continued with their first playoff victory, a 49-20 rout of Newsome in which a running clock was used throughout the second half of the Class 8A region quarterfinal.
From the start, Aidan played a pivotal role.
On Steinbrenner’s first offensive play from scrimmage, quarterback Haden Carlson threw a lateral to Dean Patterson. As soon as Patterson made the catch, he tossed a pass in Aidan’s direction. Aidan did the rest, racing 79 yards to the end zone on the trick play. After a two-point conversion failed, the Warriors (10-1) led 6-0.
The big plays continued with Aidan hauling in another touchdown catch in the second quarter for a 13-0 lead. Those grabs were meaningful for Aidan, who surpassed his older brother as the school’s all-time leader in career receiving yards.
This time, Brett was the one watching from the bleachers.
“It was special to do that and have my family watching,” Aidan said. “We needed those plays, too, because we wanted to get off to a fast start.”
The Wolves (8-3) are known for their smashmouth style of play. They prefer to run the ball on time-consuming drives that keep opposing offenses off the field. So it was important for Steinbrenner to get the lead early — and maintain it — to take Newsome out of its offensive comfort zone.
The Warriors did just with an avalanche of first-half points. Matt Durrance returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown. Deon Silas ran 10 yards for another score. And Carlson hit Patterson on a 60-yard strike to help Steinbrenner build a 35-0 halftime lead. Steinbrenner did not let up. Silas scored on a 13-yard run and a kickoff return in the second half.
Newsome never quit. Landon White and Jason Albritton each had rushing touchdowns, and Deandre Perez hauled in a long scoring pass from Nick Felice on the final play of the game.
For Aidan and the other 29 seniors on the roster, Friday’s region quarterfinal victory was a reward for a group committed to improving — and winning — after experiencing so many growing pains as youngsters.
“I’m so proud of what these guys were able to do,” Steinbrenner coach Andres Perez said. “These guys just continued to work hard and believe in what we were doing. The results show.”
Region football semifinals
All games 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
Class 2A, Region 3
• No. 3 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Northside Christian
• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 1 Cambridge Christian
Class 3A, Region 3
• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 1 Berkeley Prep
Class 4A, Region 3
• No. 4 Clewiston at No. 1 Lakewood
• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 2 Delray Beach American Heritage
Class 5A, Region 3
• No. 8 Chamberlain at No. 4 Jesuit
Class 5A, Region 2
• No. 4 Nature Coast at No. 1 Orlando Jones
Class 6A, Region 2
• No. 5 Clearwater at No. 1 Gaither
• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 2 Largo
Class 7A, Region 3
• No. 3 Manatee at No. 2 Mitchell
Class 7A, Region 2
• No. 5 Bloomingdale at No. 1 Armwood
• No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 2 Lakeland
Class 8A, Region 2
• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 1 Sarasota Riverview