Palm Bay to present challenge for MitchellBy JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 15, 2002
TRINITY -- There is no way to sugarcoat this.
Mitchell must move heaven and earth to upset Melbourne Palm Bay in tonight's first playoff game in the school's three-year history.
The Pirates are No.6 in the Class 4A state poll, but that's not nearly high enough.
Palm Bay's only two losses are close ones to 6A powers. The Pirates started the season No.2 in the nation in USA Today, average 379 yards of offense and give up 125.9 on defense.
This is a team whose state-ranked recruits rarely play in the second half, elite athletes used to watching the running clock after winning its past five by a combined 281-17 and the past two 126-7.
The Mustangs, who squeaked into the playoffs with a school-record four victories, have drawn the toughest postseason assignment in the county. "They might be the best 4A team in the state, if not the best team in the state," Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz said. "They're a heck of a football team. Tremendous speed. We've got to try and find a way to move the football."
But if there is one coach who knows how to negate speed, it is Schmitz. In the playoffs for the first time since he led River Ridge in 1998, Schmitz learned after years of challenging east-county powers such as Pasco and Zephyrhills to counter it with physical play. Speed is only an advantage, Schmitz said, if it gets past the line of scrimmage. "We try to control the game up front," Schmitz said. "There's no secret to stopping speed. You just don't let it get started. Our offense and defensive lines have got to do a great job. They have got to try and control the line of scrimmage.
"If we do a decent job up front when we have the opportunity, we'll be okay. If not, they've just got so much team speed. I don't think we have anyone who can catch them from behind if they get loose. They're the best high school football team I've ever seen on tape. They've got it all."
But despite Palm Bay's overwhelming advantage in pure athleticism, Schmitz said he doesn't expect any less from his team. Yes, Mitchell has 24 seniors, but none have been to the playoffs. The team has struggled to stop the run and on offense starts a sophomore at quarterback in Spencer Brown and a freshman at tailback in D.J. Crosby.
But to the coach, this game is a test for every player and for the future of his young program.
"You can look at it a couple of ways," Schmitz said. "You can look at it like you're playing this outstanding football team, so why are we even going there? We're going to get over there and just have (our heads) handed to us. Or you can look at it as an opportunity.
"We always try to teach our kids you always look at things as an opportunity. If I'm Spiro Tsagaris, the nose tackle, I'm going against one of the top offenses in the state. Where do I stand with these people? Can I give them a football game? To me, it's a great challenge. If you look at it any other way, you shouldn't be wearing a uniform."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111