SARASOTA -- For coaches and players, the best thing about a spring football game is that you can look at it anyway you want.
You can even say it never happened because in the eyes of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), it never did.
No scores or stats are kept.
So host Cardinal Mooney defeated Braden River 32-13 on Thursday in a grind-out game that lasted nearly three hours, and both head coaches could take some good and bad from it.
It could be looked at as a big achievement for Class 3A Cardinal Mooney to defeat 7A Braden River, but Cougars coach Josh Smithers didn't want to view it that way.
"Its 7A versus 3A, but it's still 11-on-11. It means they have more depth than us, they have twos and threes and we really don't have any twos," Smithers said. "Our first team guys can play with anyone. Both our two first-team running backs were cramping up, and we don't have any more so we had to use a lineman to run the ball."
The Cougars had a lot of Demardre Patterson and quarterback Reese Vita, which proved to be more than enough.
Patterson scored two touchdowns, including one on a 96-yard kickoff return and rushed for 75 yards on 19 carries with his other touchdown coming on a 4-yard run.
Vita completed 8 of 13 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with
Sean Morris for 45 yards on Mooney's first possession of the game and hit Blair Perry with a 37-yard scoring strike when the Cougars scored 16 points in the third quarter that included a 41 yard field goal by Blake Young.
"In all three phases of the game we played pretty well, but we've got to run the ball better than we did tonight," Smithers said. "We protected well, and we feel if we give Reese some time he will be able to make some things happen. We've got to get a lot stronger up front so we can run the ball better."
With all its injuries last season, Braden River, it seemed was due for some good fortune this year. But on the third play of the game, Pirates quarterback Dusty Peebles took a hard hit and was knocked out of the game with a concussion.
Freshman Jake Huesman, who had never played quarterback in a varsity game, came in and did some good things while showing a strong arm.
Huesman completed 16 of 35 passes for 220 yards with one interception. He connected on a 57-yard pass to Marcus Balliette that gave the Pirates a first down on the Cougars' 1-yard line and set up their first touchdown, which came on a 2-yard run by Davion Banks.
Huesman took it in himself from 2 yards out with 5:44 left in the game to account for the final score. Marcus Balliette was his favorite target with four receptions for 82 yards. Playing only the first half, Carlos Crawford led the Pirates ground game with 48 yards on 10 carries.
"We definitely got better this spring," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. "Obviously, you would like to end on a positive note, but there were some positives in the overall spectrum of the game. We are a better program now than what we were at the end of last season."
Braden River had about 15 players on the sidelines. Most were unable to play because of injuries, and some had other issues. The receiving corps had some good moments with seven different players catching at least one pass.
Lou Ziebell had four receptions for 35 yards and had what would've been a 72-yard catch called back because of a penalty.
Cardinal Mooney's top receiver was Morris, who had two catches for 91 yards and Mitch Arimura caught two passes for 49 yards. Young also had a 32-yard field goal, and Morris had an interception.
"We had a lot of young mistakes early in the game that hurt us, but our kids played hard," Bradley said. "Jake played his heart out. He is a warrior. It was good to see what that young can do and good to know if we need him in the future he will be there for us."