By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 3, 2001
SPRING HILL -- Steve Garofano had possibly just played in the last organized football game of his life.
The senior had concluded his career at Springstead High with a 35-0 win over Gulf and a greater personal finale than anyone dared imagine: two rushing touchdowns, one passing score and two interceptions.
But shoulder pads in hand, leaving the field for the final time, Garofano was far more immersed in another thought: Despite missing the playoffs, the Eagles were 6-4, a winning team for the first time since 1997.
As the emotional final huddle on the 50 proved, that meant a lot to Springstead's players and coaches.
"There couldn't have been a better final game for the seniors as a whole," Garofano said.
"This team had a lot of seniors, and we grew through the 0-10 (record in 1999), the 3-7 and now we got 6-4."
The game perpetuated a series of streaks that elevated the Eagles and buried the Bucs in the final weeks of the season.
Springstead won its fifth consecutive game and extended its shutout streak to 15 straight quarters. Gulf (2-8), meanwhile, lost its fourth in a row and suffered its second consecutive shutout.
Springstead struck early, then went into a funk until a 28-0 second half.
The Eagles took a 7-0 lead with 8:29 left in the first quarter when Garofano hit wideout Jeff Hill with a 69-yard touchdown pass on a halfback option.
Garofano scored on runs of 2 and 3 yards and Matt Abbene caught an Everet Simmons pass that tipped off Hill and raced 31 yards for a 28-0 lead. Brady Nessler completed the senior-class touchdown splurge when he intercepted a pass by Jeff Blanchette (who had four picked off) and bolted 35 yards for a score.
Coach Bill Vonada, who earned his first winning season in four years at Springstead, was among the emotional in the postgame huddle.
"This is a pretty close-knit group," he said. "These are guys who have gone through some pretty tough times -- sweated and bled through the tough times and the hard work to get to the good times, and now the season is over. There obviously was some sadness there."
"This is something you work your whole life for," he said. "You play a sport since you were 7, and I have 11 years in this. I never thought it would actually end."