TARPON SPRINGS — Holding an eight-point lead with more than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Friday night, visiting Mitchell took over on its 20-yard line.
The packed crowd at East Lake was on its feet, screaming, with plenty of hope. All the Eagles needed was one more stop and a couple of big plays.
It never happened.
Behind their tough offensive line, the Mustangs proceeded to bull ahead, steadily and often brutally with sophomore running back Corey Simms and sophomore quarterback Cayden Thomas carrying the ball.
Mitchell’s final drive featured 15 plays and 64 yards, ending on East Lake’s 16-yard line with a victory-formation kneeldown by Thomas that ran out the clock on the Mustangs’ 24-16 victory.
The final official running play? A 13-yarder by Simms on fourth and 1. It was an appropriate ending, as he finished with 23 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown despite missing the majority of the third quarter with cramps (a frequent problem for both teams).
“I have to give it up to our offensive line, because it didn’t matter who was running the ball,” Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz said. “Whoever was running it was gaining yards.”
The Mustangs (1-1) pushed the ball up and down the field from start to finish. Their first drive was a march of 60 yards in seven plays, with Thomas completing his first three passes for 34 yards and Simms gaining his first 26 yards on four carries, the final one a 9-yard burst around the right corner for a touchdown.
East Lake (0-2) followed by grinding out a 64-yard drive of its own to end the first quarter tied at 7.
At the half, Mitchell held a 17-16 lead, a gap that could have been bigger if not for a couple of tackling miscues and a fumble on a punt reception that gave the Eagles the ball at the Mitchell 16-yard line.
“We were not perfect, but we stayed aggressive and kept at it, and that’s what it’s all about,” Schmitz said. “Our defense really stepped up (Friday) and showed what it is capable of doing (after giving up 35 points in a one-point loss to Gulf last week).”
Led by an unrelenting attack with linebacker Giovanni Ferraro and defensive end Cody Allen, Mitchell not only shut out East Lake in the second half, it gave up just a handful of yards.
The game’s final touchdown came on a 40-yard pass from Thomas to Bryce Backus in the third quarter. Thomas, who passed for almost 300 yards last week, threw his first touchdown pass in the second quarter to Michael Houllis on a 6-yard slant.
Schmitz said the victory was “huge, because starting 0-2 doesn’t sound too good, and then to get the victory here against a quality team, this should help really get things rolling.”