On Friday evening, the Springstead Eagles (6-2) defeated the Mitchell Mustangs (4-4) in a 37-34 thriller at the Eagles Nest. The final home game of the season was a back-and-forth affair that went down to the wire. In the end, the Eagles would get their revenge over the Mustangs, who had been the only team to defeat them the previous season. Despite giving up some big plays on defense, Head Coach Michael Garofano’s squad won the turnover battle, managed the middle eight well, and executed his two-minute offense to take the lead with less than six seconds remaining in regulation.
“Oh, my goodness. It was so back and forth,” Coach Garofano said. “We got that field goal at the end of the half, which was big. Kind of gave us a little momentum going into the half… We got the ball coming out, 21-17, and now we’re in the game. On offense, did a great job making plays, couple big runs by quarterback, by [Junior RB Connor Mccazzio], a couple of receivers making plays. What a back-and-forth game.”
Mitchell was in control early, as they scored on a one-yard Sophomore SB Jake Malvar run on a nearly five-minute, 12-play touchdown drive to open the game. Springstead went three-and-out and gave the ball right back to the Mustangs. The game could have started to get dicey for the home squad, but the defense stepped up on third and long. Mustangs’ Sophomore QB Cayden Thomas committed the first of three critical miscues as he overthrew his target, and S/WR Cordarius Owens took full advantage of that. Picking off the ball, the senior defensive back returned the interception deep into Mitchell territory, all the way down to the 13-yard line. Springstead would punch it in from one yard out four plays later on a direct snap to Junior SB/C Tyree Davis up the middle.
After falling behind to Mitchell 21-7 late in the second quarter, Coach Garofano’s offense had under a minute to make something happen before the half. After a roughing the passer penalty by Mitchell and a 26-yard pass by Junior QB Gio Martinez, Springstead knocked through a 37-yard field goal as time expired. The home team would get the ball again out of half, and it would not take them long to double up on scoring opportunities. After a holding call on Springstead’s first play from intermission, Mccazzio broke free down the right sideline for an 80 run and raced past the secondary to the endzone.
After a three-and-out by each squad, the Mustangs’ offense took the field again. That is when Thomas made his second error. After being heavily pressured on 3rd and 9, the Mustangs’ QB threw an interception to Junior Dalton Williams, who returned the ball roughly 35 yards all the way to Mitchell’s goal line. A hair’s breadth away from paydirt, Davis took the handoff up the middle yet again for the score and the Eagles’ lead.
Though a doinked PAT would be cause for some trepidation later in the matchup, the home team largely dominated the “middle eight.” Garofano’s crew gave up some points in the late second quarter, but they scored heading into halftime and registered two straight touchdowns in the first 5:01 of the third quarter to take the 23-21 lead. Early in the fourth quarter, Springstead would punch it in once more on a 43-yard run by Martinez to give the home team 23 straight points.
Later in the contest, after Mitchell had drained most of the final frame on a pair of touchdown drives, Garofano and company trailed 34-30 with 1:09 left. Thanks to a good return and a personal foul on Senior PJ Class out of bounds, the Red, White, and Blue were set up with excellent field position on Mitchell’s 45-yard line. Six plays and another 15-yard Mitchell penalty (roughing the passer) later, Springstead found themselves on the one-yard line with 10 seconds left and no timeouts. On 3rd down, the Eagles seemingly elected to run the ball with Mccazzio and he scored his second touchdown of the night with 5.8 seconds left. A third pick thrown late by Thomas to Tyree Davis sealed the victory for the home team two plays later. The irony is that the ball was not intended to be in Mccazzio’s hands on his game-winning score.
“I’ll be honest,” Coach Garofano said. “That third down play, because we’re out of time outs, I was like we need to pull this and throw it. If it’s there, throw it. If not, throw it away because we’re out of timeouts, game’s over. They end up giving it and we scored by like half a yard. I was like, ‘Oh goodness.’ Just crazy, crazy game. Thank God we’re on the right side of it.”
The Mustangs will look to continue developing heading into their last games against Sunlake and Wesley Chapel at home. With a quarterback, running back, and wide receiver who are all sophomores, Coach Garofano feels the Mustangs have a lot of potential to work with in the future. For the Eagles, they will travel to face Haynes City and Lecanto for their final two matchups. The Springstead coaching staff will be looking for their players to improve their tackling and execution on offense moving into their final games before postseason play begins.