Melbourne Central Catholic football coach Mike Riazzi summed up scheduling this way: find three games against teams better than yours, three games against teams comparable to yours and four games against teams you aren’t so sure about.
In reality, you can’t predict much about any of them prior to a season. When the Husters’ game against Montverde was scheduled — tonight’s being the second meeting in back-to-back years — Riazzi couldn’t know that the second-year team would be 4-1.
Another thing Riazzi couldn’t know was that his own team would be unbeaten seven weeks into the season, but here the Hustlers stand, at 5-0, perfection on the line. Whether the Eagles present the challenge of the young program they are, or they are a true threat at 4-1, the coach’s job is to keep his players motivated.
“I think you have to look at it like there’s a target on your back and you’re the team to beat,” Riazzi said. “What’s better than 5-0 is 6-0, and now we know we’re the one with the target in the district. We have three district games left, so any kind of letdown and you don’t achieve that goal.”
In a county of 17 FHSAA football teams, four are unbeaten entering tonight’s games. Heritage and Merritt Island are 6-0, and Bayside is 5-0.
The Panthers were in the same spot last season and won eight games before suffering their first defeat, 7-6 to Palm Bay. Heritage coach Ajay Ulmer has coached teams with 8-1 and 9-1 regular seasons, but he has never led one with no losses come playoff time.
“That’s always the ultimate goal,” he said. “The main thing we focus on is, when you’re undefeated, the target gets bigger every week. Even when you’re playing teams that don’t have a very good record, like we’re facing this week with (0-5) Westwood, this could be their game of the year.”
The Panthers ran into a bit of that last week, when Port St. Lucie, 1-2 at the time, jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead over Heritage. The Panthers responded for a 51-7 win.
“You want to do things early and not give them any momentum,” Ulmer said. “You can’t give them the feeling that they can play with you.”
Heritage will face that challenge throughout October. In addition to an open date, the Panthers have a game against South Fork, currently 2-3 and already having lost to Bayside, 26-5.
When November dawns, however, it is not out of the realm of possibility that an unbeaten Panthers team could meet an unbeaten Bayside squad with the Class 6A, District 14 title on the line.
Ulmer would welcome the challenge.
“Absolutely,” he said. “However it pans out, we’re going to approach it the same way, but that would be nice. That’s the kind of game that, from an emotional standpoint, would be a big game with everything on the line.”
That’s true. On the other hand, when a team is unbeaten, perfection is on the line every time it takes the field.
» Holy Trinity at Orangewood Christian,
» Melbourne at Bayside, 7 p.m.
» Atlantic at Viera,
» Heritage at Ft. Pierce Westwood, 7 p.m.
» Rockledge at Treasure Coast, 7 p.m.
» Space Coast at Poinciana, 7 p.m.
» Melbourne Central Catholic at Montverde, 7 p.m.
» Seabreeze at Cocoa, 7:30 p.m.