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Scuttled games mean teams must scramble

Adjusting to a different opener and a nine-game season are legacies of Hurricane Frances even before it hits Florida.

SCOTT PURKS and JIM REESE
Published September 4, 2004

TAMPA - A regular season for high school football is 10 games. No ifs ands or buts.

Ten games. As standard as crummy concession-stand hot dogs and fizz-less soda.

But ... not this year in Florida.

No, thanks to Hurricane Frances many of the state's high school teams will play nine-game regular seasons.

The hurricane caused Friday's games to be canceled from Miami to the Florida-Georgia border. In Hillsborough County, all the in-county public-school games were canceled.

So, does one game matter?

Sure it could, many coaches say, one game could set the tone for the season.

Especially if you're somebody like Hillsborough, which was about to play defending Class 4A state champion Armwood.

"Our kids were very disappointed," Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. "I respect the decision to cancel the games, but after preparing so hard to play Armwood we were so psyched we would have played during the lull in the storm as the eye of the hurricane moved over Tampa.

"Our kids had been aiming for Armwood since they beat us in the first game last season (24-14). Now the job is to shift gears quickly and prepare immediately for our next game (against Middleton) and only worry about the things we can control."

Other coaches chimed in with the idea that the shuffling took a bigger toll on the players than the coaches.

"It would have been nice to have played because you think about your first opponent of the year all summer long once you see the schedule," Alonso coach Mike Heldt said. "We were out working in shorts and T-shirts (Thursday), getting ready for Newsome when we got the word.

"Immediately you realize you have to junk your gameplan and switch to your next opponent, Gaither, rather than Newsome. It's hard on the kids because they are younger and they had mentally prepared for a specific game. But we are teachers as well as coaches and we must train them to work under adversity. Our job as coaches is to get the team back on track. And we have."

Gaither coach Mark Kantor said his players were disappointed.

"Like every other team, after hitting against your own guys week after week, you are really ready to go live in your opening game," Kantor said. "But it was a good decision to cancel the games as it's always better to err on the side of caution. ...

"But then what are the state officials going to do about the seeding of teams at season's end? Suppose some Class 5A team up in the Panhandle goes 10-0 and a 5A team from Tampa ends at 9-0. How will that effect the seeding of those teams if they should meet in postseason play? It'll be interesting to see how that plays out."

Jefferson and Blake were the only public school teams from Tampa to play this week, both traveling to Orlando for games against teams from Colorado. Jefferson beat Ponderosa, 41-15, while Blake fell to Douglas County, 24-12. Could that effect the playoff picture? Maybe. The upside is that none of the first week's games for Hillsborough County teams were district games, so none affect playoff seedings.

Jesuit coach Bill Schmitz agreed with Heldt that the toll was probably tougher on the players than the coaches.

"When you're a player, you begin on Monday to picture in your mind exactly how you want the game to go," he said. "How something like this effects a team is determined by how well they react to it. The best way is to immediately turn the page and move on. Ironically, we have had our opening game with Jacksonville Bolles canceled two years in a row. We have had two solid days of practice since the cancellations and are looking forward to playing Suwanee High School next week. We'll be ready."

Robinson coach Mike DePue felt that the disappointment of having the opener canceled was felt throughout the student body.

"The school was very let down," DePue said. "We had a good year last year and everybody is really fired up this season. The band and the students were really ready to kick off the season, especially against Middleton, who beat us last year (10-3) at their place.

"Now we were getting ready to play them here at Robinson."

Robinson and its next opponent, Sickles, exchanged game films Friday morning and both teams began preparing immediately for next week.

"As soon as we heard the games were being canceled, we got the team together and began practicing for Sickles rather than Middleton," DePue said. "They got right down to business and I think the lost game will have little or no effect."

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