A football slipped from the Mulberry quarterback's hand, and as fate would have it, Tampa Catholic defensive lineman Michael Aguila snagged the floating ball and rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown: a touchdown with 2 minutes remaining that made it 10-0, which ended up the final score of the Class 2A state quarterfinal.
Aguila, a 5-foot-11, 265-pound senior, was mobbed by his teammates, and then after the final whistle blew, was hugged by everyone in sight, including Mulberry coach Ken Grantham, a similarly-built large man who had a heartfelt message for Aquila.
"You just lived every fat lineman's dream," Grantham said.
Aguila laughed and unleashed the biggest grin in town. And why not after what he had been through?
In the last game of last year Aquila tore up his shoulder, which required surgery and extensive rehab. Then on the first play of this year's workouts he suffered what doctors believed was a severe neck injury, but after a second doctor's opinion, turned out to be residual pain from the shoulder surgery. Then after returning midway through this season, he suffered a hip-pointer in last week's game, an injury that hurt terribly but obviously didn't stop him.
"I was just playing hard," Aguila said of his now famous play. "I was rushing and then all of the sudden there was the ball, like a gift."
A gift that sealed victory No. 100 for TC coach Bob Henriquez and for the second-consecutive year sent TC (9-3) to the Class 2A state semifinals, this time against Miami Gulliver Prep, which defeated Miami Arch-Bishop Carroll 26-14.
"I have to hand out a lot of credit tonight," Henriquez said. "There was Aguila, our defense which held Mulberry to 187 total yards, intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles and our kicker Matt McLaughlin who hit a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter and punted six times for a 46-yard average, twice pinning Mulberry inside its 15-yard line."
Specifically, Grantham pointed to TC's defensive line.
"Their defensive front dominated us," Grantham said. "And then when it looked like we might break one, they made a great play. They are well coached because they always had an angle on us."
Mulberry, which had averaged more than 40 points in its last four games, ended its season 8-5, but for the first time in 24 years made it past the first round of the playoffs.
"Because the game was so close 3-0 until Aguila's touchdown, I thought it was going to come down to a breakaway play, and you know, I thought it was going to be us that broke it," Grantham said. "But you know, it was them. Yep, they made the play."
Mulberry0000-0Tampa Catholic3007-10 TC-McLaughlin 38 FG
TC-Aguila 25 int. return (McLaughlin kick)