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Mitchell still needs to beat Hudson for a playoff shot

The Mustangs could grab an at-large spot, but only if they win.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 7, 2002

TRINITY -- They sat around the phone Friday night, anxiously awaiting the news. Had Ridgewood defeated Central? Was Mitchell's hopes of backing into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record and earning a wild card into the playoffs still alive?

It was after 10 p.m. when word reached the Mustangs' locker room:

They're still in it.

"We had a bunch of kids in the locker room, and they went crazy," Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz said. "They were jumping up and down because they knew they had a shot."

A shot. Just one. Beat Hudson tonight, earn that fourth win, and the Mustangs could earn an at-large bid into the Class 4A playoffs.

West Pasco County already has one team in the playoffs making its very first appearance: Class 4A, District 6 runner-up Ridgewood. Could Mitchell, in just its second varsity year, be the second?

Whoa, wait a second now. The Mustangs still need that fourth win tonight.

"We're not there yet," Schmitz said, "and that's the big thing that we've talked about all week. We're not there yet.

"Hudson's not going to walk in here (tonight) and just give it up. Hudson's got to believe they have a real legitimate chance at winning."

"They're going to come in with a little confidence, thinking they can beat us."

Schmitz actually credits the Oct. 25 26-17 loss to Central with elevating his team's level of play. The next week, Mitchell faced Class 4A, District 6 champion Land O'Lakes and all-world quarterback Drew Weatherford.

The Mustangs decided to play it aggressive, blitzing Weatherford and bumping-and-running his receivers in man coverage. They held a 10-7 lead -- the first lead over the undefeated Gators this year -- before falling 29-10.

It was an encouraging sign that Mitchell can play playoff-caliber football, Schmitz said.

"We really approached the Land O'Lakes game as a challenge, to see how far we've come," he said. "Our kids really bought into the idea that we were going out there to challenge them."

Of course, Schmitz would prefer not to be a sub-.500 playoff team.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "Would I rather be in as district champ? Would I rather be in as district runner-up? Or would I rather be in as a 7-3 wild card? Yeah, I would.

"But on the other hand, we're just a second-year program, and look how far we've come."

The process that awards at-large playoff bids can be a vexing one.

Schmitz, who led River Ridge to west Pasco County's last playoff appearance in 1998, thought his 7-3 squad in 1999 sure deserved a wild card, but was denied. Which is why he wasn't even thinking about the at-large bid this year.

"I knew about it," he said. "But I didn't factor it in."

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