For most of the first half, Flagler Palm Coast stood toe to toe with the defending Class 8A state football champ.
The Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead over Sanford Seminole late in the first quarter when KJ McCabe kicked a 29-yard field goal.
It looked like FPC’s advantage would hold up through the half, but the Seminoles scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left in the second quarter and then scored again on the first drive of the second half on the way to a 27-3 victory Sept. 17 at Sal Campanella Stadium.
The win was the Seminoles’ 16th in a row, and they now have won 23 consecutive regular-season games dating back to 2018.
“For 23½ minutes in the first half we were a better football team than them. We just ran out of gas,” said Robert Paxia, who lost his first game as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
“They’re the reigning state champions. That’s an active goal that we want to have. To have an opportunity to play those guys reveals a lot about our football team,” Paxia said. “There’s no replacing experience. Regardless of how many people they graduated, those kids still played for a state championship. They know how to win. We’re still learning how to do that.”
FPC fell to 2-1, 0-1 in District 2-8A. The Bulldogs will meet another undefeated team on Sept. 24 when they host Spruce Creek. They return to district play on Oct. 1 with a road game at Oviedo.
“Our district is full of very good football teams. Oviedo, DeLand and Lake Mary are all three outstanding football teams,” Paxia said. "We’re not worried about them right now. We’re going to worry about Spruce Creek on Friday. There are no breaks from this time forward."
Paxia was hired in late May, so he did not have a spring practice period with the team, which put the Bulldogs behind in learning a new system, he said.
“We’re just going to keep getting better. That’s all we can do."
ROBERT PAXIA, FPC football coach
“We’re just now past the spring football point in our football season, as crazy as that sounds,” he said. “We’re just going to keep getting better. That’s all we can do. We are learning how to practice. We have to practice to win the game. Championship teams don't have bad practices. We're learning.”
Running back Dakoda Wagner gained 74 of the Bulldog’s 200 rushing yards against the Seminoles, but the Army West Point commitment left the game with a leg injury after getting hit hard with 7:53 left in the game.
Paxia said after the game that Wagner had suffered a calf injury. On Sunday, the coach said the senior, who leads the team with 369 yards rushing and four touchdowns, had a deep bruise.
'Heck of an effort'
Paxia was pleased with his team's defensive effort, despite a few costly miscues, including a pass interference penalty on fourth-and-4 that preceded Seminole quarterback Luke Rucker's first touchdown pass late in the first half and a busted coverage on Rucker's second TD pass that made it 14-3.
"The defense put in a heck of an effort," Paxia said. "Just these little executional details, a busted coverage here, a busted coverage there and they made us pay every time. The best part about this is it’s early and we got the opportunity to grow and get better off of this."