HOMECOMING: Pirates capture third win in a row with victory over Nease
With crutches in hand, Trenton Steward gingerly hobbles around the football field at Matanzas High School. He still has bits of grass, dirt and sweat caked on his skin. Steward also has a pack of ice wrapped tightly around his right ankle.
Only a few minutes earlier, Steward picked up a first down on a short run up the middle, allowing the game clock to expire with the Pirates still in the lead.
The 5-foot-8, 168-pound offensive dynamo isn’t too worried about it, however.
“It’s frustrating,” said Steward, Matanzas’ starting running back. “But I should be back next week. I know how to take care of it now.”
If Steward can take care of his ankle as well as he took care of the Pirates’ offense on the night of Friday, Sept. 29, the future of the Pirates’ season looks to be in spectacular shape.
Matanzas (3-1) defeated the Nease Panthers 17-14 on homecoming night. Steward had two touchdowns, one on the ground and one through the air, including a 41-yard bomb from Pirates quarterback Ryan Thomas halfway through the third quarter to take a one-touchdown lead.
Steward gave the credit to his senior signal caller.
“Two plays before, [Thomas] hit me on the same play,” he said. “It was 1-on-1, and my coach works with me on using my feet. I beat the defender on the inside the first time. The second time, he bit inside, so I bit him outside. I was just wide open.”
In addition to Steward, Thomas had one of his best games of the season. Despite a few mishandled snaps, Thomas was able to help move the offense down the field, eclipsing 200 yards passing on the Panthers’ defense.
He was sacked once — an anomaly so far this season for the Pirates.
“I have to give credit to my offensive line,” Thomas said. “They blocked really well. They just gave me time to throw back there.”
The turnovers did prove costly, though.
Leading by 10 with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Matanzas’ center botched the snap. Thomas couldn’t pick the ball up off the ground before a swarm of Nease defenders fell on top of it.
The Panthers (2-3) scored only a few plays later, cutting the Pirates’ lead to just three points.
“If you don’t turn the ball over, we probably score 30 points tonight,” Pirates coach Robert Ripley said. “You can’t ask our defense to play all these snaps and continue to be great. We just gotta do a better job at protecting the ball.”
Matanzas’ defense did a great job in getting the ball back, however.
In addition to two fumble recoveries, the Pirates also intercepted Nease quarterback Preston Staples three times.
“Our coaches just tell us to play relentless,” said Pirates defensive back Branden Gilyard, who picked off Staples in the third quarter. “And that’s what we came out with.”
After dropping a big loss to rival Flagler Palm Coast in the season-opener, the Pirates have bounced back, winning their last three games in a row.
They face New Smyrna Beach on the night of Friday, Oct. 6, at home. Matanzas scored 58 points against the Barracudas last year.
“Gotta control your own destiny. We talk about that all the time,” Ripley said. “They’re going to be looking for a little bit of retribution, so we’ve gotta be ready.”