SPRING HILL - Coming into Friday's fifth meeting between a pair of Class 6A, District 6 rivals, Mitchell's 11th-year skipper Scott Schmitz bemoaned the lack of a Mustangs' "signature win" this season.
"We've been waiting for a signature win," emphasized Coach Schmitz, who arrived 2-2 lifetime against Springstead. "This is an opportunity to pull an upset. It's been kind of tough that we haven't."
For its part, Springstead, moved to within one district victory - next week at "The Swamp" against 7-1 Land O' Lakes - of history after tallying the game's final 31 points against upset-minded Mitchell at Booster Stadium, earning a 38-6 win.
The Mustangs (5-4 overall, 1-3 6A-6), who remained winless in Spring Hill (0-3), trailed early as the mistake-free Eagles (7-1 overall, 3-0 6A-6) gashed Mitchell for 83 yards on four snaps on the game's opening possession.
Senior running back Kevin Bedford (seven carries/96 yards), who helped set up the score with a 55-yard burst, cruised in from five yards out for his third rushing score of the season.
Placekicker Tyler Toth, who converted 5-of-5 PAT boots and added a 20-yard field goal on the night, followed with his initial point-after only 59 seconds into the game, 7-0.
The West Pasco County crew countered with a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped by a perfectly executed 34-yard draw for a touchdown by senior running Nate Boler. Boler finished with 16 carries for 60 yards.
But after Boler's second touchdown of the season, senior placekicker John Schwindt misfired on the ensuing point-after with 8:24 showing in the first quarter, 7-6.
The Mustangs, who churned out 224 total yards of offense, could not finish off any drives for the remainder of the game.
MHS was victimized by a game-high four turnovers, including two lost fumbles (recovered by junior linebacker Dylan McLeod and senior defensive tackle Travis O'Neil) and a pair of interceptions (swiped by junior defensive backs Brian Rae and McLeod).
The four turnovers pushed SHS to a county-leading 21 turnovers (15 fumbles recoveries, six interceptions) featuring a plus-11 turnover margin for the season.
After Eagle middle linebacker Conor Ross jarred the football away from senior quarterback Taylor Schneider (three carries, minus-17 yards), O'Neil recovered at the Eagle 44.
The Eagles, who are attempting to become the first-ever Hernando County team to earn back-to-back district titles, covered 56 yards in six plays.
The Florida Athletic Coaches Association District 10 MVP, quarterback Tyler Mahla, scored the first of his two touchdowns (his 13th and 14th of the season) from eight yards out on the second play of the second quarter.
With 1:27 left in the first half, Schneider, who clicked on 10-of-17 passes for a game-high 122 yards, had a pass tipped in the end zone and swiped by Rae. Schneider's target was 6-foot-5, 200-pound Zack Rapaport (six receptions/91 yards).
Instead of possibly tying the game, Mahla (16 carries/game-high 111 yards) countered with a 36-yard run. A Mustang personal foul - Mitchell's only penalty of the game - tacked on 15 additional yards.
Concluding a critical 14-point swing, two plays later, fullback Daniel Wright (11 carries/52 yards) scored his fourth touchdown of the season from two yards out with 35 ticks remaining before intermission, 21-6.
On the fifth play of the second half, Schneider was picked off by McLeod. McLeod returned the theft 52 yards to the Mustang 20.
On third-and-goal from the Mitchell 1, Mahla accidentally collided with Wright and fumbled the ball. Fortunately for the vocal host fans, Mahla fell atop the loose ball for a 3-yard loss.
Out trotted Toth, who buried his fourth field goal in five attempts from 20 yards out, 24-6.
After the Mustangs covered 42 yards, the drive stalled at the Eagle 31 on an incomplete fourth-down pass.
The Eagles responded with a pair of uncharacteristic big plays: a 29-yard burst by Bedford and 26-yard completion from Mahla to senior halfback Latavious Hannah.
The seven-play, 69-yard drive was capped by Mahla's 30th rushing touchdown of his career from 11 yards out with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
With five minutes left in the game and Joe Jeffords took the controls and engineered an eight-play, 54-yard drive culminating in freshman running back T.J. Owens' first-ever varsity touchdown from a yard out.
Toth's 25th PAT in 27 chances split the uprights with 1:55 left to close the books.
"After they scored, we realized we made a mistake," noted the 16-year-old Juan Espinosa, who not only shined on special teams, but also rotated in on defense. "That first touchdown kind of shook us up."
"We definitely started slowly on defense," pointed out the 16-year-old Ross, a two-time All-County selection. "They caught us off-guard on the draw and hit some nice runs. But our defense never gives up."
On Garofano's two gambles, "Coach 'Gator' Garofano plays for keeps," explained Ross. "He showed that he has supreme confidence in us to go for it on fourth-and-short and to attempt a fake field goal. Both times, we put the ball in Tyler's (Mahla) hands. He's the District MVP for a reason and he's the man."
Though junior offensive guard James Kern replaced Austin Hampton at center, SHS didn't lose a beat garnering a game-high 368 total yards of offense.
"Tonight was a challenge (playing center)," pointed out the 16-year-old Kern. "I played there in middle school and some in the preseason classic. I just remembered the rules and executed. I thought we picked up things much better in the second half."
On the possibility of making history next week, "Tonight's win was big, but next week's is real big," he said. "It's a game that's not only important for us, but for the student body and alumni."
With the win, Coach Garofano became the first of eight Eagle mentors across 38 seasons to win seven straight games in his first year. The previous record was six by the Pat McCoy in 1996.
"Tonight, Mitchell outflanked us a few times before we made some adjustments," detailed Garofano. "What I'm most happy about is the amount of points we allowed and the number of turnovers we got. We bent, but we didn't break."
On his two fourth-down gambles, "We're not sitting back waiting for things to happen - that's not my style, that's not how you win district titles," said Garofano. "I have the utmost confidence in our offense. I thought we could get two yards in that situation.
"In the worse-case scenario, I thought even if we don't make it, our defense will bail us out."
"I'll enjoy this (win) for another 10 minutes and then start talking with the coaches about Land O' Lakes," said Garofano. "We do not want to play in a tiebreaker (should the Eagles lose). As far as I'm concerned, if we don't win Friday, we don't deserve to be district champs."
Springstead 38, Mitchell 6
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
MIT 6 0 0 0 -- 6
SPG 7 14 10 7 -- 38
SPG - Bedford 12 run (T. Toth kick).
MIT - Nate Boler 34 run (Schwindt kick fails).
SPG - Mahla 15 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Wright 2 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - T. Toth 20 FG
SPG - Mahla 15 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Owens 1 run (T. Toth kick).
First Downs 13 16
Atts./Rushing Yds. 36-102 41-309
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 10-17-2 5-11-0
Passing Yds. 122 59
Total Offense 53-224 52-368
Fumbles/Lost 2-2 2-0
Return Yards 5-60 2-25
Punts/Avg. 3-32.3 3-33.3
Penalties 1-15 3-20