7A FOOTBALL: Mitchell comeback falls short against Manatee

Mitchell players shake hands with Bradenton Manatee after falling 31-28 during Friday night's Class 7A region semifinal.

HURRICANES 31 MUSTANGS 28

TRINITY – The tears were flowing late Friday night. For Mitchell’s football team, 2019 was a season full of reloading and proving itself.

If the Class 7A region semifinal between Mitchell and Bradenton Manatee has any indication of what the future looks like for the Mustangs, just consider it to be a very bright one for a program that’s on the up and up. The Mustangs latest test had them up against the Hurricanes, a program that's won five state titles and reached eight championship games. Many had Mitchell written off before kickoff.

Despite heading into the game having not seen an opponent the caliber of Bradenton Manatee, Mitchell was more than ready to stand up to the challenge. The Mustangs took an early 7-0 lead before the Hurricanes scored three unanswered touchdowns en route to defeating Mitchell 31-28 at Mustang Stadium.

The loss for Mitchell marks the end of the Pasco County prep football season. The Mustangs finished out 10-2, winning another district championship but falling just short of reaching the region final. Manatee will host Venice, which defeated West Palm Beach Palm Beach Lakes.

“That’s a state championship caliber football team over there,” Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz said after the loss. “My guys hung with them every step of the way and didn’t give an inch and I couldn’t be any more proud of these guys. This senior class is a group of guys who have gotten the most out of their abilities.”

It was a tough defeat for Mitchell to swallow, as missed chances throughout the first half came back to haunt them. Two red zone opportunities before halftime inside of Manatee’s 20-yard line turned into zero points for Mitchell and the Mustangs went into intermission down 21-7.

Mitchell quarterback Ezra Brennan made sure the Mustangs wouldn’t go down without having something to say about the matter. The junior signal caller tossed three touchdowns and 240 yards in the air against a stiff Hurricanes defense.

Running back Tyler Williams found little room to run most of the evening. The workhorse had one big run of 55 yards but was kept in check otherwise. It became up to other skill players like Johnny Fairbank and Rob Graham to make some big plays through the air. Fairbank has a beautiful sliding catch for a touchdown in the third quarter that cut the deficit to 21-14, but Manatee was able to answer right back with a score of its own.

Mitchell (10-2) never gave up to the very end, as they scored a touchdown on quarterback sneak by Brennan to cut Manatee’s lead to 31-28 with under two minutes to go. Unfortunately the ensuing onside kick attempt didn’t go 10 yards and gave the ball back to Manatee. The Hurricanes ran out the clock, thus ending one of the most successful runs in school history for Mitchell.

“I know this junior class is going to be laser-focused on going deeper into the playoffs,” Schmitz added. “This junior class is another group of really tough guys and we’re losing some key seniors, but we also have some guys coming up. We will be just fine.”

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