7A FOOTBALL: Mitchell advances to first-ever region final

APOPKA — Starting a new football program about 20 years ago, check. Reaching the playoffs for the first time back in 2002, check. Winning the program's first district championship in 2015, check. Winning the school's first playoff game in 2017, check. Practicing on Thanksgiving for the first time, check.

All those checkmarks but no region final appearance for the Mitchell Mustangs up until they had a chance for redemption on Friday night when they faced Apopka Wekiva on the road. The Mustangs had experienced the joy of accomplishing so much in two decades and decided to add another notch to their belt.

Mitchell went on the road and got a masterful performance from its front seven, holding opposing running back Chad Davis to 55 yards rushing, and the Mustangs got by Wekiva, 24-18. The team now moves on to the Class 7A region final where they will face Orlando Edgewater. Edgewater was a big winner on Friday night, defeating Viera 59-0 at home.

"I know (Orlando Edgewater) is a very good team. We will get started on studying them (Saturday)," Mitchell head coach Andy Schmitz said after the win.

Knowing his team was just over a year removed from a heartbreaking 31-28 loss to Bradenton Manatee at home in the region semifinals last year, the Mustangs (11-0) didn't want to miss this opportunity to put themselves in elite conversation as an all-time Pasco County club. Only Pasco, Land O' Lakes, Hudson and River Ridge have ever reached the region final level and Mitchell now becomes the fifth team in county history to join the group.

The Mustangs got out to a 10-0 lead with a 22-yard field goal by Keaton Howard, followed by a little trickery when wide receiver Maguire Anderson hit Jonathan Fairbank (three catches, 53 yards) on a 28-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter. Wekiva (6-4) never went away and, behind the play of quarterback Junior Muratovic, it remained in the game. Wekiva, which averaged 115 yards rushing through its first nine games, was held to 79 yards on 24 attempts.

More eye-opening was Wekiva being held scoreless the entire first half, something that hadn't happened to the Mustangs all season long. Muratovic kept Wekiva in it, as he went 13-of-31 passing for 245 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. His first touchdown would be to sophomore wide receiver Asaad Waseem, a 60 yarder to begin the third quarter. 

Mitchell answered right back with a quick scoring drive of their own, aided by a 63-yard Cole Castro kickoff return. Quarterback Ezra Brennan (13-of-26, 154 yards) connected with Fairbank on a 25-yard touchdown pass to push Mitchell's lead to 17-6. After a quick series by Wekiva that ended with a punt, Mitchell running back Khamari Smith, who was taking his first carries of the season for the Mustangs, broke the game open a bit with a 69-yard scoring scamper to extend the lead out to 24-6. Smith ended the night with 98 yards on nine carries and stepped in admirably for the injured Andrew Treto. 

The Mustangs outgained Wekiva 357-324 in total yardage on the evening, with the latter staging a furious comeback in the fourth quarter. Wekiva fell just a little bit short, as Mitchell was able to run the ball out. A key 15-yard pass from Brennan to Fairbank sealed the win for Mitchell, but the game would not end peacefully, unfortunately. In the final seconds, both teams scuffled and Orange County sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene, having to disperse the crowd from the stadium. 

Andy Villamarzo can be reached at andyvillamarzo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.