ST. PETERSBURG - Friday night was a school night after all.
There were plenty of lessons for St. Petersburg Catholic took away from its 27-17 loss to Pahokee in the Class 2B state semifinals.
Some the Barons learned on the way to the school's first state semifinal appearance. Some were taught by the defending state champion Blue Devils.
Regardless of who was doing the teaching, sophomore Jock Sanders said he and his teammates learned a lot that will help them in the future.
"It hurts but, like I said, there's always next year," he said. "This is probably going to be the best team that we've ever had, if it's in the state semifinals.
"Or the best team could be in 2006."
It will be hard to top what SPC did this year. The Barons (9-2) were vying to be the first Pinellas County team to reach the state title game since Dixie Hollins in 1995.
"Of course we'd like to have gone to state," said senior quarterback Billy Tapp. "But going this far is just amazing. The team we had this year was awesome. I'll never forget them.
"We had amazing chemistry, especially the seniors. The whole team is like brothers to me."
But those brothers might always wonder, what if?
What if the sluggish Barons had not let the Blue Devils take a 20-0 lead with 8:20 left in the third quarter, all three run in by star running back Antone Smith? What if SPC had not wasted its best drive by throwing an interception in the end zone? What if the Barons did not have to rally to score 17 unanswered points, sparked by Sanders' 68-yard interception return? What if, down 20-17, the Barons could have stopped the Blue Devils' 56-yard, game-clinching drive?
Pahokee coach Leroy Foster said SPC was his team's toughest opponent since last year's state semifinal win against Fort Pierce John Carroll.
"The're a great team and (SPC) coach (Dan) Mancuso coached them up," Foster said. "He came to me before the game and said "Hey, take it easy on us.' But sheesh, he gave us everything (we could handle.)"
In the last 14:14, that is. Before that SPC was slow to match Pahokee's fierceness. When the Barons made a tackle, they rode the ball carrier down. When the Blue Devils made a tackle, they threw the ballcarrier backward.
"They were a tough defense. They pressed our receivers all night," said Tapp, who was sacked three times in the first half. "We knew they were fast, but they just had a really good team. It was just hard to get it going."
And that was it for SPC's senior class, whose legacy might not be appreciated fully until the next two seasons. They were the ones who brought the Barons closer together.
Sanders said he wasn't the leader he could have been this year, certainly not compared to the seniors.
"I'll remember all the seniors and how they helped us," Sanders said. "When we were down the senior leaders helped us out."
Said Tapp: "That's awesome. I'm glad he said that. Just being able to do that for him or to get through to the other players is great."