Holy Trinity falls in heartbreaker to Merritt Island


Holy Trinity coach Nate Hooks Jr. talks to his football squad after Friday's 10-0 road loss to Merritt Island. The game was tied at 0-0 until the Mustangs broke the tie with a touchdown with 6 minutes, 58 seconds remaining.


MERRITT ISLAND --- One simple screen pass and one missed tackle perhaps prevented Holy Trinity from recording a football upset to remember Friday night in the season opener for both schools.

Instead, the Tigers would lose their matchup with the Merritt Island Mustangs 10-0.

On third down, Merritt Island needed 7 yards for a first down on the Holy Trinity 47 with 10 minutes, 47 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. The game was tied at 0-0 as the defenses dominated play in a game that seemed destined for overtime. Or, a game where a turnover would lead to a decisive score.

Michael Moss threw a simple screen pass over the middle to Devarius Mitchell, who eluded one would-be tackler as he sprinted to the left 39 yards to the Holy Trinity 14-yard line. 

Five plays later, Dylan Gertz powered in from 6 yards out for the decisive touchdown. Jake Nobles kicked the ensuing extra point as the Mustangs took a 7-0 advantage with 6 minutes, 58 seconds to play in the game.

Later in the quarter, Nobls would add a 32-yard field goal with 2:38 to play to account for the final 10-0 margin.

“If we had lost 50-0, it might have been easier to accept,’’ said Holy Trinity coach Nate Hooks Jr., whose squad defeated Fort Pierce Central 36-13 last week in a Kickoff Classic.

“We’ve got to get a mindset where we can play better for another 6 minutes, 58 seconds. We missed our chance when we didn’t get out on top of them early. Because of our lack of depth, we have to get out on top. When it gets to midway in the third quarter and the fourth quarter, a big, strong team like Merritt Island is going to give us some trouble.

“And, they will take advantage of it.’’

Merritt Island, a perennial playoff team, plays in Class 5A, District 14, while Holy Trinity is one of the smaller Class 3A squads in the state.

The Mustangs, who won state titles in 1972, 1978 and 1979 and were a state runner-up in 1989, have posted a 46-30 record in state playoff competition.

Holy Trinity is winless in eight state playoff games.

Holy Trinity didn’t quit after it fell behind 7-0 as Dru Nickson threw a 22-yard pass to Carlos Estronza on second down to move the ball to the Tigers’ 43 on the ensuing possession.

Holy Trinity lined up with an unbalanced line with most of the players on the left side, and Nickson, the center and Estronza on the right side.

Nickson ran 11 yards to the Merritt Island 46 on the next play, but a trick play then backfired as Preston Milo took a handoff from Nickson and fired an interception into the hands of Merritt Island’s Daniel Robinson.

After a 5-yard penalty for delay of game, Gerson carried the ball for gains of 10, 4 and 8 yards to move the ball to the Tigers’ 19.

Four plays later, Nobles kicked a 32-yard field goal with 2:38 to go to all but clinch the game for the Mustangs.

Gerson, who averaged 37 yards on his five punts for Merritt Island in the field-position struggle, rushed for 35 yards on seven carries. Each of his carries came in the fourth quarter.

The Mustangs defeated Eau Gallie 33-27 in overtime last week in their Kickoff Classic.

“We should have in crunch time put the ball in Dru Nickson’s hands to make things happen,” Hooks said. “Our Division I receivers didn’t play like they can, and we couldn’t run the ball when Merritt Island put seven defenders in the box. Our threat of passing the ball diminished a great deal as the game progressed.”

Nickson completed 10 of 22 passes for 94 yards and one interception. He rushed for 26 yards on just seven carries. Six of Nickson’s passes were dropped against the Mustangs.

Last week in the Kickoff Classic against Fort Pierce Central, Nickson rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries.

Larry Hill was held to 28 yards on 12 carries against the Mustangs after rushing for 166 yards on 26 carries against Central.

Merritt Island rushed for 192 yards on 44 carries, and Moss completed 4 of 6 passes for 63 yards.

The Mustangs had 255 yards of total offense, while the Tigers were limited to 151 yards of total offense.

Both teams struggled with penalties in the physical contest. Merritt Island was penalized 13 times for 95 yards, while Holy Trinity was whistled seven times for 70 yards.

Milo averaged 36.2 yards on six punts for the Tigers, who will try to regroup next week with a road game against American Heritage of Delray Beach. American Heritage defeated Belen Jesuit of Miami 36-29 Friday in its season opener.

Holy Trinity’s next home game will be on Sept. 7, against Berean Christian.