By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 8, 2002
"Don't you wish you could be a fish?" -- The slogan on a full-page, yellow and blue ad inside a four-page special section distributed by the Charlotte Sun-Herald before Jefferson's game against the Charlotte Tarpons.
Donnie Woods and Rashaun Grant were two of Jefferson's biggest stars before season-ending injuries relegated them to hobbled cheerleaders.
Woods, a lineman, tore an ACL during practice and underwent surgery while Grant, who had already surpassed 1,000 yards rushing, broke his ankle during an Oct. 25 game.
Woods dressed out for Friday's Class 4A semifinal against Charlotte, pacing the sideline until -- FINALLY! -- with 1 minute, 32 seconds remaining, coaches sent him onto the field to line up 20 yards behind quarterback Andre Caldwell, who kneeled three times to run out the clock. The move allowed the senior to be on the field when the Dragons clinched a berth in the state title game.
Grant, on the other hand, almost didn't make it into the stadium.
Traveling with his family instead of on the team bus, the senior arrived about an hour before kickoff. But an overzealous ticket taker almost didn't let him in the gate despite the fact he kept showing her his Dragons jersey, which he wore underneath a jacket. She finally relented and he was on the sideline when the Dragons' celebration began.
How much did the Tarpons' first state semifinal in more than 30 years mean to Punta Gorda? One journalist referred to it as the biggest moment in Charlotte High's 76-year history. Even more astounding was the fact that fans began filling the stadium at 4:30, three hours before kickoff. One hour before kickoff, the stands were full and "late arrivers" were forced to stand at the end of the end zones, outside the track.
And fans would do anything to save their seats, including the group that wrapped the metal bleachers in black trash bags, secured them with duct tape and stuck business cards to the top so everyone knew who was sitting there.
Chief among Jefferson's questions before Friday's game was how to contain Tarpon quarterback Justin Midgett and 6-foot-5 receiver Ryan Voss. Especially considering the Dragons were starting four defensive backs who didn't start last year. The answer: let Josh Balloon watch some game tape.
"Josh saw on the tape that if you let (Midgett) set his feet he can light you up," Jefferson coach Mike Simmonds said. "But if he has to get out of the pocket, he's no different than any other quarterback."
The senior linebacker called for a slight adjustment early, moving 300-pound Jonathan Bailes from defensive end to an inside position, and Midgett, who has committed to Florida and passed for more than 2,300 yards, was held to 75 yards passing, completing 6 of 24 attempts with two interceptions.
Holding a 30-3 lead with about seven minutes left in its Class 5A semifinal against Daytona Beach Mainland, Wharton's coaching staff made one of its smartest moves: The coaches had the water boys dump out the coolers of Gatorade, avoiding the ceremonial sideline soaking for coach Richard Wood.
Good move, considering the temperature was below 50 degrees.
As one Wharton administrator pointed out, "We don't need any coaches getting pneumonia one week before the state final."
For Jesuit, there was no shame in losing to Rockledge (13-1), which is defending its 3A title and returned all but two starters. The Raiders' only loss was to 4A Palm Bay, which stomped Lincoln 44-21 on Friday. And even against Palm Bay, the Raiders only allowed one touchdown (on a kickoff return) in the 7-0 loss.
Even so, Tigers running back Aaron Fryer said the 34-13 loss was ... well, still a loss.
"Any time you make it to the playoffs, it hurts to lose, whether it's to the defending state champions or whomever."
"If they win next week, I guess it would make it a little easier, to say we lost to the state champions."
Despite playing with a cast on his arm, Jesuit DB/WR/RB Shane Robinson spent nearly the entire game on the field and was one of the Tigers' biggest weapons. Being the team's top receiver and among the most-productive defensive players, Robinson knew no other way to play as he dove for balls, hauled down Raiders and attacked linemen twice his size.
"You're not going to keep a kid like that down," Rockledge coach Chuck Wood said. "What a tough kid. And to play like that with one arm? He's going places."
-- Compiled by Mike Readling, Brant James, Scott Purks, Emily Nipps.
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