TRINITY — Mitchell’s offense was not stopped in the second half, getting back to the form that carried it a 10-1 record and No. 2 seed in Class 7A, Region 3. But a key sequence late in the first ended up being just a little too much to overcome, and the Mustangs lost to visiting Bradenton Manatee 31-28 in Friday’s region semifinals.
Despite the game effort, the Mustangs still have not reached the third round of the football playoffs. The tradition-steeped Hurricanes will host Venice in the region final.
Ezra Brennan threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns, but Manatee rode a balanced offense, one run-heavy TD drive in the second half and a killer 43-yard field goal to the victory.
The end of the first half proved difference-making. Manatee (8-4) produced touchdowns on its first three possessions and Mitchell, down 21-7, missed a short field goal with 4:11 left in the half. A Johnathan Nelson sack, however, on third and 2, then a partially blocked punt by Nic Fairbank, set up Mitchell at the ’Canes’ 25.
A 16-yard pass by Brennan to Ronnie Fiumara put Mitchell inside the 10, but twice from the 1-yard line — including on the last play of the half — hulking Manatee defensive lineman Ryan Ives swarmed into the backfield to keep it 21-7 at half.
"That was huge. That one hurt,” said Mitchell coach Andrew Schmitz. “We struggled in short yardage in the first half. There were some plays we didn’t make, but we made some others.”
In fact they every time they had the ball thereafter, though that would only be three times.
Mitchell’s defense got a quick three-and-out. Then Brennan found Phelps for 18 yards, Fiumara uncovered for 14 on third and 2, and after having a TD overturned for crossing the line of scrimmage, got a tremendous diving catch in the corner from Jonathan Fairbank for an 11-yard score.
The drive took five minutes and then Manatee chewed up another five with a big answer: 10 plays, all but one a run, for 70 yards ending on Tyson Phelps’ 5-yard TD. Ives came in as an extra blocking back as Manatee went power all the way.
Mitchell compiled its own 70-yard march, mostly through the air, ending with a 16-yard TD pass to Rob Graham with 9:53 left in the fourth. Though the Mustangs stuffed the power game, with Fairbank recording two tackles for loss, Manatee was able to get in position for a big-time, 43-yard field goal that Axel Lepvreau easily bombed through for a 10-point lead with 4:36 remaining.
The Mustangs had one more charge, which included a 31-yard pass to Ethan Phelps on fourth and 15. But the 75-yard TD drive required Schmitz use up his timeouts, so even after Brennan plunged in at 1:39 Mitchell needed an onside kick recovery. The Nathaniel Eichner offering just missed going 10 yards where a Mustang was waiting to pounce.
“We knew they were really good up front defensively. We didn’t want to completely abandon the run, but we knew we were going to have to throw it,” Schmitz said. “Second half, that’s what our quarterback and our receivers can do. They did everything they possibly could to get us in the football game.”
Graham had five catches for 44 yards, all in the second half, while Fiumara and Phelps both collected four grabs for just more than 60 yards each, and Fairbank nabbed two scores.
With Manatee having shorter fields, and the two Mitchell drives that stalled out inside the 10, the Mustangs actually outgained the Hurricanes, who saw tailbacks Napoleon Harris (67 yards) and Phelps combine for right at 100 yards. Jayden Corbett caught two touchdown passes, on identical seam routes in the first half, and sophomore Jayce Berzowski went 11-of-15 for 123 yards.
Tyler Williams ran for 94 yards, 55 on one play, and had some big gains on the game-opening drive that saw Mitchell take the 7-0 lead. Manatee answered with a 12-play drive that included a key Berzowski pass on third and 6; he would get a big 9-yard run on third and 7 to continue the ensuing possession when Manatee took the lead for good.
Williams was part of a senior class that Schmitz had a hard time letting off the field afterwards.
“A lot of people wrote us off for this year, us bumping up to 7A, losing such a good senior class. A lot of people wrote those seniors off, and they proved that was absolutely not true,” he said.
Schmitz’s voice started to crack when singling out one senior in particular: 5-foot-11, 170-pound linebacker Noah Midthun.
"He has no business being a starter on a 7A playoff football team — athletically. But he just plays his heart out... and means so much to this program. Those guys are gonna be missed around here.”
All games 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
Class 2A, Region 3
• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 3 Seffner Christian
Class 3A, Region 3
• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 2 Fort Myers Bishop Verot
Class 4A, Region 3
• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 1 Lakewood
Class 5A, Region 3
• No. 4 Jesuit at No. 2 Lake Wales
Class 6A, Region 2
• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 1 Gaither
Class 7A, Region 2
• No. 2 Lakeland at No. 1 Armwood
Class 8A, Region 2
• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 3 Kissimmee Osceola