Marcus Mitchell sat on the bench with a huge smile planted across his face.
The scene was typical. Mitchell is almost always beaming from ear to ear. But this moment was special. Flagler Palm Coast High School’s junior running back had just scored his fourth touchdown of the night and Mitchell’s teammates were putting their finishing touches on a 28-9 victory over county rival Matanzas on Sept. 15 at the Pirates’ stadium in the annual Potato Bowl game.
A capacity crowd in both the Matanzas home stands and the FPC side across the field witnessed Mitchell’s dominating performance. The 5-foot-8, 225-pound bruising runner ran over, around and through the Pirates’ defense on the way to 288 yards rushing on 25 carries. His final touchdown, a 44-yard run with 8:28 left in the game, took out whatever wind was left in the Pirates’ sails.
He's so determined, he's so physical. He's got a low center of gravity and he's got tree trunks for legs. You can hit him as hard as you want to, but you got to wrap him up and you're going to need help. — DANIEL FISH, FPC football coach on tackling Marcus Mitchell
“You just can't bring Marcus down with one person,” FPC coach Daniel Fish said. “He's so determined, he's so physical. He's got a low center of gravity and he's got tree trunks for legs. You can hit him as hard as you want to, but you got to wrap him up and you're going to need help along with that as well.”
Mitchell has 527 yards rushing in three games, which is more than half his rushing total of 1,025 yards last season.
“We all worked hard as a team,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn’t have done it without the O-line, without the defense getting stops. But it feels great to have a breakout game like this.”
It was the Bulldogs' 12th victory in 15 meetings with the Pirates.
FPC improved to 2-1 after losing its season opener at Live Oak Suwannee. Matanzas, also 2-1, lost its first game of the season after opening with wins at South Lake and Tocoi Creek.
“I still firmly believe we got a really good football team,” Matanzas coach Matt Forrest said. “I think that was a really good football team we played tonight. It’s a hard pill to swallow. It's rivalry game. It means a lot to these kids, this community, but we've got to move forward.”
The Pirates couldn’t overcome mistakes and turnovers. A Matanzas personal foul on an FPC punt kept the Bulldogs’ opening drive alive, and Mitchell followed a 20-yard run with a 4-yard scamper for his first touchdown of the night.
Matanzas then fumbled on its first possession with FPC defensive end Colby Cronk recovering at the Pirates’ 31. Five plays later, Mitchell scored on a 21-yard run and the Bulldogs led 14-0 with 4:09 left in the first quarter.
“We had a good game plan,” Matanzas senior Cole Hash said. “We came into it knowing we had a chance to win, but we had too many mistakes and they had too many big plays, and we just couldn’t rebound. So much momentum was on their side that we couldn’t reel it back in.”
It’s a hard pill to swallow. It's rivalry game. It means a lot to these kids, this community, but we've got to move forward.” — MATT FORREST, Matanzas football coach
Matanzas appeared to score early in the second quarter on a 28-yard pass from Dakwon Evans to Daniel DeFalco, but the touchdown was called back because of holding. Hash then caught a 30-yard pass to set up a fourth-and-1 at the 10. But FPC middle linebacker Zaiden Greene tackled Hash for no gain to force a turnover on downs.
The Pirates get on the board with a safety on the first play of the second quarter when an FPC punt snap sailed over punter Chase Magee’s head. But the Bulldogs added another score before halftime on Mitchell’s 1-yard run to make it 21-2.
Matanzas receiver Andre Andrews caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Dakwon Evans with 8:07 left in the third quarter. Andrews caught a short pass and broke several tackles to get into the end zone.
Matanzas drove to the FPC 9-yard-line on its next possession, but its chance of making it a one-possession game ended when Greene tipped a pass to himself for an interception.
Fish said Greene, a sophomore who moved in during the spring, earned the starting middle linebacker spot after starting spring practice on JV.
“I just heard him putting his pads on people every practice, so I was like, let's give this kid a try,” Fish said. “He doesn’t shy away. He’s not scared of anybody.”
A trick-play pass by Hash on the first play of the fourth quarter was intercepted by FPC cornerback Aiden Peterson, setting up Mitchell’s fourth touchdown.
The Bulldogs rushed for 337 yards. Quarterback Caden Gonzalez added 117 yards passing. Evans passed for 152 yards and rushed for 77 yards for Matanzas. Cronk had two sacks for the Bulldogs.
“It was a game of two teams battling hard and at the end of the day, the one that made the most plays won. And they deserved that,” Forrest said.