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Three plays, three flags, three losses

By JOHN COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


Ridgewood will be going for its seventh straight win tonight ...

(... had everything gone right).

The undefeated Rams? Crazy? Outlandish? Outrageous?

Maybe not. The concept is not as far-fetched as one might think. Ridgewood is 3-3 this season and has won more games than in the past four seasons combined. But as coach Wayne Parzik has often lamented, his team has been just a handful of plays away from a 4-2, 5-1, or even a 6-0 start this season. How close has Ridgewood come? Three seminal moments -- all penalties -- are the difference between 3-3 and 6-0hmyGod.

Let us count the plays:

Sept. 8: Pasco beats Ridgewood 27-8, but the game was not nearly as lopsided as the score indicates. The Rams outplayed the Pirates the entire first half and held an 8-6 lead midway through the third quarter. Mario Policastri dashes in for an 18-yard touchdown, but the score is wiped out by a holding penalty. Instead of taking a 15-6 lead Mike Cassagnol fumbles on the next play. Pasco takes over and Ben Alford throws a 72-yard touchdown pass to Joe Bain as the Pirates roll on.

Sept. 29: Zephyrhills sneaks by 13-7 in two overtimes. In the second overtime, Len Sones' 5-yard touchdown run gives Zephyrhills the lead, but John Briscoe's extra-point attempt fell wide right. On Ridgewood's first play, Mario Policastri picked up 7 yards on first down. Instead of facing second and goal at the 3, with three downs to score before kicking one lousy extra point for a victory, Ridgewood was called for holding -- its 14th penalty of the game -- and pushed back to the 20. Zephyrhills' Kenny McCullough intercepted a Larry Higgins pass on the next play to end it.

Oct. 6: Palm Harbor University breaks a few hearts with a 21-19 win. Third-string quarterback Mario Policastri, taking his first varsity snaps, engineers two scoring drives to take a 19-18 lead with 2:04 left. A terrible 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for a face mask infraction on the kickoff moves the Hurricanes to the 34-yard line. They move 40 yards in two minutes and kick the game-winner.

WHAT'S LEFT: Here's what's left for the county's west side teams:

Hudson -- The Cobras are clearly looking ahead to next year, and the best coach Terry Voyles can hope for is that the experience his younger players are getting pays off.

Then again, there's a fine line to walk there, because the losses the Cobras are incurring can be demoralizing enough to crush a young man's spirit. Voyles has a tough job.

River Ridge -- First-year coach Mike DeGennaro thinks his schedule is the biggest reason the Royal Knights have struggled to a 2-5 record, with wins coming against Gulf and Hudson. But it gets easier as the Royal Knights close with St. Petersburg, Ridgewood and Citrus.

All three of those games are winnable, and while the Royal Knights have nothing to play for as far as the district goes, the showdown with Ridgewood promises to be a good one.

River Ridge is probably looking forward to reclassification. When the Florida High School Activities Association shuffles its districts and classifications for next season, the Royal Knights should escape Hillsborough, East Lake and Chamberlain. In two years in Class 5A, District 7, River Ridge was 1-5 against those teams.

Gulf -- The Bucs have struggled in recent years to attract players, but this year had a banner turnout. While the increase in players didn't add up to as many wins as coach Keith Newton would hope, a strong finish could keep the momentum going.

A strong finish won't be easy, though, considering the Bucs face one playoff team (Clearwater Central Catholic), two others whose game tonight will settle another playoff spot (Ridgewood and Land O'Lakes), and an improving Palm Harbor team.

Ridgewood -- It's good to be a Rams fan these days, with lots to look forward to starting with tonight's game against Land O'Lakes. If the Gators win, the playoff race in 4A-6 is all but over. If the Rams win, they are back to controlling their own destiny.

Ridgewood has a string of three games coming up that will really determine how the season will be remembered. After the Gators tonight, the Rams meet rival River Ridge and then the No. 1 team in 4A-6, Countryside. So in the span of three weeks, the Rams season could ascend to new heights that include a playoff spot, or a season defined by the what-if games of the first six weeks.

-- Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

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