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Central down but not out

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- It is going to be a hard sell for John Wilkinson.

Especially because it sounds like so much coachspeak. Especially after a one-sided loss -- the fifth by double digits in Central's 2-5 season.

But even after a 45-6 thrashing from Land O'Lakes on Thursday night, when Wilkinson tells the Bears all they have to do is win two winnable games and they will make the playoffs, he's dead on.

Amazingly, in a season of disappointment wrapped in disgust and deep-fried in frustration, all that stands between Central and a chance at redemption is a victory over two traditionally unsuccessful programs.

"If the kids will overlook this (loss to Land O'Lakes), they'll realize if we win the ones we need to win right now, we're going to get into the playoffs," Wilkinson said. "Even with our record as bad as it is, it's two-wins-and-we're-in."

Perhaps it is unfair to dub Mitchell High, a second-year program, as unsuccessful, but the Mustangs are not winners. For Ridgewood, which has not had a winning record since 1985, it is kind.

Though victorious against some other traditionally unsuccessful teams (winless Hudson, 1-5 Gulf and 2-4 Mitchell) in starting 3-0, the Rams are 4-3 after wilting against Wesley Chapel (6-1), Land O'Lakes (7-0) and Zephyrhills (6-1). Ridgewood beat River Ridge, another weak opponent, Thursday.

The question for Central, down athletically from the past few seasons, is where it fits on the talent scale.

The Bears' victories came over River Ridge (1-6) and Springstead (1-4 before Friday's meeting at Mitchell), but Central will have the most potent athlete on the field in each game. Senior tailback Tim Gaynor rushed for 165 yards and a score Thursday.

The Bears cannot afford to assume anything, however.

"Not this year," Wilkinson said, chuckling.

Central beat Ridgewood 49-8 last year and Mitchell 28-15. In a season of dubious achievement so far, the first-year coach thinks school history is a possibility.

"I don't get into district championships," Wilkinson said. "They don't mean anything to me. Getting into the playoffs and being a part of the big show does.

"We want to win the first playoff game in school history. Whether it's this year or next or 10 years from now, we're going to do it," he said. "It'd be big for us and big for this area in general to get a playoff win."

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