After an undefeated regular season, Wesley Chapel's postseason ends again in first round.
WESLEY CHAPEL - The sheets of paper taped to their lockers confidently read "11-0." The sleeves of the T-shirts they wore all season had "10+" written on them.
But for the second time in three seasons, an undefeated regular season was Wesley Chapel's consolation prize. The Wildcats saw a third straight season end with an opening-round loss - 28-7 against Robinson - and the disappointment took much of the joy out of their 10-0 regular season.
"That's what's tough: we can't work tonight," coach John Castelamare said after Friday's game. "We were looking forward to going to work tonight, making it another 4 o'clock in the morning kind of thing."
Castelamare can start work on next season, as can many talented underclassmen, led by quarterback Anthony Rawson and running back Nigel Bryant. But for 17 seniors, their playing days ended Friday night. Walking off the field wasn't as hard as the finality of their final time at their lockers.
"Walking off wasn't as hard as taking my pads off," center Seth Fabin said. "Once they go off, they don't go back on again."
Losing was one frustration, but not being able to help was another. The Wildcats' top defensive back, Marcus Stewart, had to watch most of the game from the sidelines, limited by an ankle injury. Defensive end Chuck Amerson, who led the county with 10 sacks, watched the final quarter from the bench after he was shaken up on a rough block on kickoff coverage.
Other seniors shined in their final game - receiver Pat Cushman caught a 47-yard halfback option pass from Aaron Dickler on the first play, then added a 66-yard catch from Rawson to set up the Wildcats' touchdown. Amerson and Ryan Bethell combined for a sack, and Fabin had one.
The seniors have had unprecedented success but leave Wesley Chapel wondering what could have been. In the past three seasons, the Wildcats have been 28-2 in the regular season but have been defined by an 0-3 mark in the playoffs. Wesley Chapel starts its preparation by setting the same goal for the 2004 regular season.
"Our goal, every year, is 10-0," Rawson said. "We've got to hit the weight room, and come spring, we've got to come out and get ready to go for 10-0 again."
On a night when three of the county's four playoff teams lost - by a combined score of 153-36 - the Wildcats felt the dull ache of the county's reputation for struggling in the playoffs.
"We played like the same old Pasco County team," Fabin said. "You lose in the first round; 10-0 doesn't mean anything. We say we don't get any respect, but we don't earn it, either."