The Mitchell Mustangs (8-3) defeated the Springstead Eagles (9-2) by a 35-21 margin at the Eagles’ Nest on Friday night. The matchup was part of the division 4S regional quarterfinal of the FHSAA State Championships tournament.
It was also a rematch between the two talented teams. Having faced off only three weeks prior, the squads were well-acquainted with each other. Their last meeting was a more defensive battle that saw the Mustangs manage a narrow 15-10 victory over the Eagles in Spring Hill. That was Springstead’s only loss of the season up to that point.
With much more on the line this time around, the home team was hoping to even the score with a victory in the playoffs. This was not meant to be as the visitors controlled the game from start to finish thanks in large part to the athleticism of Senior Quarterback Chris Ferrini. Springstead Head Coach Michael Garofano emphasized Ferrini’s impact after the game.
“We couldn’t tackle him all night, so he must’ve been really good,” Coach Garofano said. “He was running by us, waving us bye. He’s got good agility, good top-end speed, he’s a big kid. Without him, I don’t know. I mean they have other good athletes too, don’t get me wrong, but he’s – you know? They go how he goes. It sucked to have to see him twice.”
This was a sentiment that was likely shared by many of the Eagles faithful. They watched as the 6’3” signal caller ran past, around, and through the defense for nearly 200 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. While the visitors maintained a commanding lead for most of the contest, Springstead managed to find themselves nearly within striking distance late in the game. With Mitchell leading 21-0 and Ferrini having already done much of the damage with his legs before the second-quarter water break, the Eagles could have begun to fold. Instead, they dug deep.
On their last full drive of the half, Garofano’s squad drove 80 yards on 13 plays to put their first points on the board. With 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Ferguson lofted a 16-yard touchdown pass to CJ Cresser in the endzone. This made the score 21-7 with little time remaining, but the Eagles would get one more chance at paydirt before the intermission.
Springstead Outside Linebacker Madden Buratczuk would recover a fumbled snap by Mitchell on the first play of their ensuing drive. Suddenly, it was a game again. To the Eagles’ chagrin, they would run out of time and be forced to attempt a short field goal – one that they missed.
The Eagles had difficulty keeping up in the second half, but a late flurry of fortuitous plays gave them a glimmer of hope. Following their third touchdown of the night, Springstead recovered an onside kick and another Mitchell fumble minutes later. These would not be enough, though, as the lead Ferrini and the Mustangs had built would prove insurmountable with the time remaining.
“I was just proud of the way we fought and played this whole season, how we fought through the end of the game to make it a game,” Coach Garofano said. “Could have folded. Could have easily just been a running clock, but we fought and came back. We faced a little bit of adversity, so it kind of shows what our character is.”
Mitchell will advance to face the daunting top-seeded Lakeland Dreadnaughts (10-0) next week. The Dreadnaughts just put the finishing touches on a 49-0 evisceration of the Lake Gibson Braves (4-7) – their second such game against the Braves this year. The undefeated Dreadnaughts will host the visiting Mustangs next Friday at 7:30 pm.
While Mitchell will continue to play for at least one more week, Springstead’s season is over. For the Eagles, it was a rough end to a solid season that featured a nine-game winning streak to start the year and a newly renovated grandstand.