EAGLES 28 MUSTANGS 21

ORLANDO – The outcome wasn’t what Mitchell desired, but the Mustangs went on the road to Orlando Friday night and proved they belong with some of the best programs in the state.

Mitchell gave Edgewater everything the Eagles could handle and then some, before ultimately falling 28-21 on a score with 16 seconds left to play.

Tied 21-21 and attempting to force overtime in Friday’s Class 7A Region 2 final, Edgewater junior Jeremiah Connelly took a handoff and blasted through the middle for a game-winning, 19-yard touchdown.

Despite defeat being 16 seconds away, Mitchell managed to get within 16 yards of a tying touchdown before running out of time. Senior Maguire Anderson returned the ensuing kickoff from Mitchell’s end zone to its own 41. Senior Ezra Brennan hit Maguire for a quick 8-yard pass and then connected with senior Elijah Hadley 35 yards downfield when time expired.

The loss was Mitchell’s first and put an end to a historic season. The Mustangs have reached postseason play seven years in a row, all under Coach Andrew Schmitz. Three teams got to the doorstep of the region finals – in 2016, 2017 and 2019 – and this was the first to advance to the third round.

“That was a really fun game to coach,” Schmitz said following the final postgame huddle of the season. “These seniors are special. They’ve done things here that nobody’s done. They’ve done things that a Pasco County team hasn’t done in a long time. They’ve had a whole lot of people doubt them, a whole lot of people write a bunch of stuff saying we don’t belong here, and I think they just proved to a lot of people that they belong here.”

Edgewater (7-2) now advances to the state semifinals for the third straight year and will take on Niceville (11-0), which beat Orange Park Fleming Island, 35-18. The Eagles beat Niceville 28-20 in a Class 7A region final last year, en route to their fourth-ever state title appearance. Edgewater dropped a close game against state powerhouse Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, 28-23, and is again seeking its first-ever state title.

Given the Eagles’ recent run of success and a roster sprinkled with high-end Division-I talent, Mitchell entered Friday as a decided underdog by many throughout the region and state.

It didn’t take long for the Mustangs dispel the notion that they could not only hang, but win.

Mitchell lit the scoreboard first on its second possession, running 13 plays that spanned 93 yards. Brennan and Anderson capped the drive with a 24-yard hookup that let Edgewater know a win was going to have to be earned.

The Eagles responded with an eight-play drive of their own to tie the game at 7-all. Edgewater kept the ball on the ground the entire sequence and quarterback Canaan Mobley ended it with a 1-yard rush up the middle.

Edgewater’s ability to break off big runs, especially in the second half, proved to be the difference Friday night. The Eagles entered the night averaging about 18 pass attempts per game but were virtually one-dimensional against Mitchell’s talented defense, completing just 2 of 8 pass attempts for 22 yards and getting picked off twice.

The Mustangs kept Edgewater in check in the first half, allowing 72 rushing yards. The Eagles then picked up all 205 of their second-half yards on the ground, led by Alabama commit Christian Leary (10 rushes for 104 yards and a touchdown) and sophomore Florida State commit Cedric Baxter (17 for 76).

That big second half on the ground was far from enough to put Mitchell away, however.

The third quarter began with an Edgewater fumble on the opening kickoff and Mitchell took full advantage. Starting at the Eagles 28, the Mustangs ran five plays and went back ahead 14-7 on a 7-yard run by Brennan.

Similar to when Mitchell took its first lead, Edgewater answered right back. The Eagles ripped off their first explosive play of the night two plays into the next drive, when Mobley raced along the Edgewater sideline 63 yards to paydirt.

Mobley, a senior, rushed for 80 yards and two scores Friday, though five Mitchell sacks took away 27 yards from that total.

After Mitchell’s next possession stalled out at midfield, Edgewater seized its first lead of the night five snaps later. A 32-yard rush by Connelly helped set up an eventual 18-yard dash by Leary, giving the Eagles a 21-14 lead midway through the third quarter.

That score held into the final period before Mitchell struck again with 8:09 left in regulation. The Mustangs went on another lengthy march, beginning at their own 23, to tie things back up at 21-21. Brennan’s second touchdown run of the evening, a 3-yard play-action rollout, was made possible by a huge 39-yard hookup on fourth-and-11 to Anderson.

The game swung in Edgewater’s favor four possessions later. Mitchell’s defense forced a three-and-out and Anderson gave the Mustangs possession at their own 49 with an impressive punt return.

With 1:52 remaining, Mitchell and Brennan went to the air on two consecutive plays, but Connelly was there on the second attempt to snag a game-changing interception at the Edgewater 46.

Leary started the game-winning drive with a 17-yard rush and four plays later Connelly was sprinting into the end zone.

“That’s a hell of a football team over there,” Schmitz said of Edgewater. “They made one more play than we did. It was back and forth, back and forth, and they just made one more play than we did. But there’s nothing to be ashamed about and there’s nothing to be upset about, other than the fact that it’s over. We played so damn hard.”

Mitchell outgained Edgewater 323-299 and Brennan ended his night 21 of 38 passing for 252 yards, with the touchdown and interception. The Mustangs’ rushing attack was limited to 71 yards and Brennan’s pair of touchdown runs. Anderson finished with 81 yards receiving on four catches and the touchdown, and Hadley hauled in six passes for a game-high 85 yards.

The Mustangs forced three Edgewater turnovers. Johnny Fairbank and Cole Castro each grabbed first-half interceptions and Mitchell recovered the fumbled kickoff return to start the second half.

On the other side of the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 7A bracket, the Tampa Bay area will be represented by Bloomingdale taking on St. Thomas Aquinas. The Bulls beat Tampa Bay Tech 36-33, while Aquinas dropped Venice, 29-8.

Edgewater will head north to the panhandle to take on Niceville, while Bloomingdale will host Aquinas.

SCORING:

M - 7 – 0 – 7 – 7 --- 21

E - 0 – 7 – 14 – 7 --- 28

M – Anderson 24-yard pass from Brennan. Kick (Howard) – 1st Q (1:02)

E – Mobley 1-yard run. Kick (Howes) – 2nd Q (10:41)

M – Brennan 7-yard run. Kick (Howard) – 3rd Q (10:39)

E – Mobley 63-yard run. Kick (Howes) – 3rd Q (9:43)

E – Leary 18-yard run. Kick (Howes) – 3rd Q (6:04)

M – Brennan 3-yard run. Kick (Howard) – 4th Q (8:09)

E – Connelly 19-yard run. Kick (Howes) – 4th Q (0:16)

TEAM STATS:

------------------------M---------- E

First Downs----------15---------14

Atts./Rush Yds.---28-71----45-277

Comp./Atts./Int.---21-38-1----2-8-2

Passing Yds.--------252-------22

Net Yards----------323-------299

Fumbles/Lost-------3-2-------2-1

Penalties----------6-65-------10-125

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS:

RUSHING

M – Smith (8-40), Brennan (11-22, 2 TD).

E – Leary (10-104, TD), Mobley (12-53, 2 TD), Baxter (17-76), Connelly (4-46, TD).

PASSING

M – Brennan (21-38 for 252, TD, INT).

E – Mobley (2-7 for 22, INT), Leary (0-1 for 0, INT).

RECEIVING

M – Anderson (4-81, TD), Hadley (6-85), Fiumara (4-39), Fairbank (4-30).

E – Hill (1-13), Leary (1-9).