TRINITY — The sample size wasn’t optimal. Mitchell High had a new starting quarterback, and although circumstantial evidence favored Ezra Brennan, the empirical kind was lacking.
“We went into the first game of the season, and Ezra had played two drives — in the spring game,” recalled Mustangs coach Andy Schmitz. “That was the extent of his experience with our offense, with our receivers … with all that stuff.”
Albeit with a little more on-the-fly knowledge than Schmitz might prefer, Brennan has picked up the system pretty well. With the junior at the controls, Mitchell (10-1) rolled through the regular season and first round of the playoffs, and hosts Bradenton Manatee Friday night in a Class 7A, Region 3 semifinal.
Mitchell, used to reaching the second round, is still seeking a first-ever trip to the region finals. With Brennan at the controls, and a solid ball-hawking defense that is among the nation’s leaders in interceptions, the Mustangs appear to have a good shot.
Brennan is a transfer from Alonso but no stranger to Mitchell. His cousin, Jake Mattos, was the Mustangs’ quarterback and baseball team’s ace pitcher two years ago.
Schmitz wasn’t aware of that at first.
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about (Brennan) at all,” he said. “After he enrolled I found that he was Jake’s cousin, so that kinda brought a little bit of familiarity. Through Jake, he knew some of our kids already, so that made our transition a little easier.”
It just so happens that Brennan played quarterback at Alonso and like his cousin is a baseball player. That both helped and hurt the situation.
“I’ve definitely played at a high level of baseball, on some top teams, and it’s definitely prepared me for pressure situations,” Brennan said before Monday’s practice. “And it helps going from one sport to the other, not being so burned out.”
But Mitchell’s success in the sport, a 25-1 regular season, kept Brennan out of spring football for the most part. Though he got in some work with summer 7-on-7 competition Brennan’s “real” debut as Mustang signal caller was later than normal.
The preseason contest with Weeki Wachee was washed out, not helping matters.
“It really was a work in progress,” Schmitz said. “And I think that you see that, as the season has gone on, he’s significantly better now. I really like multisport kids. And with baseball I feel like he’s used to being in pressure situations. When you’re up to bat and it’s a crucial moment, it’s just you out there. I really think that stuff helps.”
With 188 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 33-14 win over visiting Seminole Ridge, Brennan went over the 2,000-yard mark for the season. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is an outstanding 28:5 (compared to 7:10 last year at Alonso).
Fourteen of his touchdowns came in a sizzling four-game stretch that followed the Mustangs’ lone loss. Having a strong group of receivers, and a 1,260-yard rusher in senior Tyler Williams, aids the cause.
“I’ve just been letting my team help me out,” he said. “Make easy throws when they’re there, and once the big shot opens up, take it. Our balance helps a lot. All the eyes are on Tyler, and that opens up the passing game, and once it’s open, we go back to the running game.”
None of the receivers have eye-popping numbers, but Schmitz said that’s been a key as opponents can’t just focus on locking down one player. Jonathan Fairbank boasts a team-leading 10 touchdowns on just 30 receptions, with Ronnie Fiumara producing a touchdown (six) almost every-other catch (14). Rob Graham leads in receptions with 34; Ethan Phelps and Cole Nerad have chipped in with 10 grabs each.
Everyone will have to be on their game against Manatee.
“Our kids are a very confident group,” Schmitz said. “They know who Manatee is, the type of athletes they have, their history. But our kids just want to go out and play. If our kids were playing the Patriots, they would somehow find a way watching film to say we can beat them.”
He of course means New England, but most recently Manatee rolled past the Pinellas Park version, which happens to be the lone team to defeat Mitchell.
But like his coach said, the Mustangs are confident, and for Brennan, most importantly at home.
“For sure. The atmosphere’s the best here. It’s loud, the student section always has our back,” Brennan said. “Friday should be packed, especially us bring the only Pasco County team left, I think other people will come out. Should be very interesting.”
High school football region semifinals
All games 7:30 p.m. 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