Heritage High football coach Mark Ainsley knew well before the 2016 season began that this wasn’t the experienced team he coached last year because of player losses to graduation and otherwise.
But four weeks into the season, the Panthers are 3-0 overall and 1-0 in District 14-6A. Heritage won its Week 4 game over Eau Gallie 13-7, but the night wasn’t without mistakes.
“We’re young, and we had a lot of alignment mistakes,” Ainsley said. “We had a lot of penalties. I don’t know if that’s youth.”
Perhaps the status of the young Heritage team was exemplified best by a near disaster with quarterback Willie Gaines running around in the end zone looking for a receiver with the game tied at 7 late in the fourth quarter. He nearly went down for a safety at least twice, but he finally escaped the defense and showed his arm strength by finding Tyree Parks open down the field for a 30-yard gain.
“Hopefully, his senior year he throws it away,” Ainsley said.
Heritage completed the drive and scored in the final minute on a 17-yard pass play from Gaines to Brian Nieves, a senior who has come up big in both of the Panthers’ late-game wins at home.
Early in the game, Heritage cost itself on defense by jumping offsides on a Commodores fourth-and-1, and later in the half, a penalty cost Nieves a 33-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The Panthers started the second half similarly, giving the Commodores the ball at the Heritage 22 on a fumble, and that led to the only Eau Gallie points.
Heritage showed resilience despite its youthful mistakes. After a hold wiped out a Gaines 2-yard keeper for a touchdown, he came back by throwing to Avery Oates for a 9-yard score.
And the most important, the Panthers got the win, pretty or not.
“There is no such thing as an easy win,” Ainsley said.
Hustlers winning one step at a time
Two days before the Week 4 win over Holy Trinity, new Melbourne Central Catholic coach Stacy Sizemore talked about his approach to winning football games: take it one step at a time.
Even with the significance of the approaching game against the Tigers, which MCC won 54-14 to improve to 4-0, he wasn’t thinking openly about the playoff implications.
“We don’t even talk about things like that. We’re a day at a time, a week at a time,” he said. “It’s a long process. It’s a long season.”
But Sizemore breaks it down into even smaller portions, telling his player to think about each play at a time, working to beat his one opponent across the line of scrimmage for that play only.
“I don’t even look at the scoreboard,” he said. “Just play. That’s how far we break it down. It’s one-on-one. You have to win your individual battle.”
It has worked for Sizemore for almost a quarter century of coaching, and he has success to show for it including a Class 3A runner-up finish while coaching Delray Beach American Heritage in 2014.
The Hustlers get another test Friday when they travel north to Lake Butler to play Union County, a team getting votes in the Associated Press rankings of Class 1A teams. Last year, Union County defeated MCC in Melbourne 18-7.
Here come the Mustangs
Should Merritt Island make the playoffs this year after a 1-2 start, don’t think you’re seeing history made. Slow starts are not new to the program.
The Mustangs started 1-2 last year before winning six in a row, including all five District 14-5A games. It was the fifth year in a row Merritt Island won every district game on its schedule.
The year before that, the team started 3-2 before winning six in a row.
Merritt Island takes a district break Friday to host Port St. Luice. Then the Mustangs return to 14-5A action at Satellite on Sept. 30.
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or email@example.com. Follow facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum and @Brian_McCallum on Twitter.
Astronaut at Titusville, 7 p.m.
Satellite at Bayside, 7
Cocoa at Viera, 7
Melbourne at Palm Bay, 7
Port St. Lucie at Merritt Island, 7
Poinciana at Space Coast, 7
Cambridge Christian at Holy Trinity, 7
Clearwater Academy at Cocoa Beach, 7
Rockledge at Tallahassee Godby, 7
MCC at Union County, 7
Kissimmee Osceola at Heritage, 7:30