The Matanzas football team headed back into the locker room at half time with a sense of frustration brewing among them.
No first downs, 11 penalties and, most importantly, zero points were all the Pirates could muster in 24 minutes of work.
As the players and coaches huddled in the locker room, one thing became clear — this couldn’t continue.
“We were all looking at each other and we realized that our season is either going to keep going this way or we can change it,” junior running back Josef Powell said. “So everyone grouped together and we just changed it.”
Matanzas (1-1) hadn’t seen a football field in almost a month, but no hurricane, cancellation or opponent could stop what unfolded at Matanzas High School in the Pirates’ 41-0 rout of Seabreeze (0-2) on the night of Monday, Sept. 18.
Five different players recorded a touchdown on offense, including three scores of over 35 yards.
The first score came nearly seven minutes into the third quarter when Matanzas quarterback Ryan Thomas found his 6-foot-6 tight end, Jacob Miley, wide open in the end zone from 3 yards out.
Thomas threw for three touchdowns on the night, including a short screen pass that the speedy Powell turned into a 44-yard gain that busted the game wide open at the end of the third quarter.
Matanzas coach Robert Ripley credited the offensive line, which gave up two sacks and collected numerous holding penalties throughout the first half, for rising to the occasion in the second half.
“Once they got some confidence, you saw them start to change the line of scrimmage, and that’s how we play offense,” Ripley said of the offensive line. “We’ve gotta be able to bulldoze people. We gotta have baby steps on offense. We've gotta get better with every snap, every rep.”
But despite the offense’s change of fortune in the final half, defense is where Matanzas left its mark.
The Pirates got to Sandcrabs quarterback Jadyn Nirschl seven times throughout the onslaught. In addition to the pressure in the backfield, Matanzas also forced five turnovers, including a 23-yard pick-six by middle linebacker Tylee Austin that gave the Pirates a 14-point lead with five minutes left in the third quarter.
“I really wasn’t expecting it,” the senior said. “It deflected off an offensive lineman’s back, but I was there in the position to get it and take it to the end zone and capitalize off their mistake.”
For what initially looked to be a dog fight early in the game, the win signaled a welcome change to the season for the Pirates.
From dealing with a 21-point loss to crosstown rival Flagler Palm Coast in the season opener to the canceled games and lack of practice as a result of Hurricane Irma, which devastated parts of Florida, Matanzas overcame adversity to get the job done — that's all Ripley could ask for, especially with a date with a physical Treasure Coast team on the horizon.
“We got it done. The only way to win two games this week was to win the first one," said Ripley, whose team faces the Titans on Friday, Sept. 22, at MHS. “We found a way to do that. It wasn’t pretty by any means, but we found a way to do a lot of things better in the second half. That’s what we need to build on to go into Friday and compete.”