BRADENTON -- When Mike Alstott was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was known as the A Train, he loved to run the ball.
He still likes to do it now as head coach of St. Petersburg Northside Christian and has built himself a stable of running backs to share the load.
His Mustangs pounded out 351 yards on the ground to earn a 37-28 Class 2A-District 5 victory over host Bradenton Christian on Friday night.
The game lasted more than three hours thanks to more than 20 penalties and players cramping up throughout the contest, along with a combined 39 pass attempts.
"We have a tandem of running backs, and they do well and work well with each other, and I commend my offensive line. They do a great job," Alstott said. "We pound the ball and lean on our big guys. That's what we do."
While the Mustangs had four players with at least 48 yards rushing led by Fiante Bell (179 yards), the Panthers' ground game consisted of running back Zach Cooper (73 yards) and quarterback Dusty Peebles, who rushed for 40 yards.
The loss leaves Bradenton Christian (4-3) at 1-3 in district play. Northside Christian (4-2) improves to 2-1 in the district.
The Mustangs scored 18 unanswered points in the first quarter to jump to an 18-0 lead that Bradenton Christian from which could not recover. The Panthers trailed 31-13 in the third quarter and got some momentum going with its passing game to cut their deficit to 37-28 with a little more than minute left in the game, but it was too late.
"We can't turn the ball over like we did the first two times in the first quarter with those two plays being turned into touchdowns in what is inevitably a playoff type game," Bradenton Christian head coach Allen Gerber said. "We dug a deep hole for us early, primarily because of turnovers, but we have to be resilient and fight through that. Our kids did a great job in the second half but came up short."
Bradenton Christian trailed 24-7 and 31-7 early in the third quarter. The Panthers fought their way back on the arm of Peebles and some nice catches by Wade Carter, who finished with three receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Carter caught a 21-yard TD pass in the third quarter and added a 15-yard reception in the fourth to cut Northside Christian's lead to 31-21. The Mustangs responded with a five-yard touchdown. A 27-yard reception by Carter set up a two-yard touchdown run by Cooper to account for the final score with 1:10 remaining.
Bradenton Christian lost the ball on a fumble in the first quarter that set up a 35-yard touchdown drive for the Mustangs. The Panthers fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Mustangs responded with a 40-yard drive for a touchdown.
"The truth be told, we are playing for pride at this point for the love of the game and that's OK," Gerber said. "Those turnovers created tremendous momentum for them, especially when you are dealing with teenagers. We had blunders by some seniors that we just can't have in this type of environment."