Flagler Palm Coast’s football coaches and administrators knew a penalty was coming after they reported to the Florida High School Athletic Association that they had mistakenly allowed an ineligible player to appear in the team’s first four games of the season.
They reported the error on Sept. 21 after a miscalculation in the student’s GPA was discovered. They didn’t tell the team until the FHSAA ruled on Oct. 31 that FPC would have to forfeit its first four games, three of which were wins.
The player appeared in a total of 24 plays in the four games.
“They handled it well. They understand it’s not anybody’s fault. It wasn’t a kid’s fault, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t admin’s fault. It’s a mistake. Fortunately, we found it, we were able to get it turned in and we were able to recover and grow from it.”
— ROBERT PAXIA, FPC football coach
“We knew about it a month ago,” FPC coach Robert Paxia said. “We just didn’t tell (the players) because we didn’t know what was going to happen. There was a chance it was just going to be a fine.
“They handled it well,” he said of the players. “They understand it’s not anybody’s fault. It wasn’t a kid’s fault, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t admin’s fault. It’s a mistake. Fortunately, we found it, we were able to get it turned in and we were able to recover and grow from it.”
The forfeits did not affect the Bulldogs’ playoff berth, but it did affect their seed. They will travel to undefeated Bartram Trail on Friday, Nov. 11, in a Region 4-4S quarterfinal against the top-ranked team in the 4S classification. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Hearing the news “was kind of heartbreaking,” defensive back Ely Gilyard said. “But I feel like if we come out and play like we can, we can win.”
The Bulldogs were able to take their mind off the forfeits by focusing on preparations for their final regular-season game Nov. 4 at DeLand, a game they won handily, 40-28.
D.J. Murray threw three touchdown passes and ran 77 yards for another score as FPC closed out its season with an official record of 4-6.
“At first it was just kind of like, ‘Wow this really happened to us?’ We couldn’t believe it,” Murray said of being told about the forfeits on Halloween. “But under the glory of God, we were still in the playoffs, so everybody was just happy about that. On the field we still feel like we’re a 7-3 team, and we’re going to go out and be physical no matter what our record says.”
Murray passed for a career-high 301 yards against DeLand. After falling behind 21-20 with 1:59 left in the second quarter, the junior put FPC up for good with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Roland with 1:26 left in the half.
Murray also threw a 37-yard touchdown strike to Mikhail Zysek to put the visitors up 14-0 in the first quarter and a 51-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Winkler with 7:08 left in the game.
“On the field we still feel like we’re a 7-3 team, and we’re going to go out and be physical no matter what our record says.”
— D.J. MURRAY
Marcus Mitchell scored FPC’s first touchdown on a 3-yard run, and Gilyard ran back a kickoff for a score late in the first quarter.
“The first time I returned it, Coach was like, ‘Cut it up.’ So, I trusted the process,” Gilyard said. “I (saw) the hole open. I trusted the players to block; they did. And it was wide open, so I hit it.”
Paxia said the players have become accustomed to adversity this season, fitting in practices early in the morning to avoid relentless afternoon storms, playing two games in a week twice because of a lightning postponement and then a hurricane postponement.
Injuries to offensive linemen and receivers prevented the Bulldogs from taking shots downfield as much as they would have liked, Paxia said. But the offense was in full force against DeLand, totaling 484 yards.
“It's growth, something that we’ve been working on,” Paxia said. “We played really well against Spruce Creek early on. We lost some guys at receiver and offensive line, and that just changed the dynamic of what we were doing. We’re getting better, we’re getting healthier.”
Before watching film of Bartram Trail, Murray knew what to expect.
“I know they’re a really disciplined team on both sides of the ball,” he said. “I know they’ve got a really, good quarterback. They’ve got some good DBs. But they better not underestimate us, because we’re on the road now, and I feel like the guys are really fired up to play.”