Luke Knight — and his teammates — had to convince the coach.
Longtime Wiregrass Ranch High Football coach Mark Kantor was weary — but also ready to go home. So, Knight and teammates pleaded — and eventually twisted Kantor’s arm enough — to go for it. They wanted the record for most touchdown passes in a game.
“The kids were like, ‘Coach! We’re one away!’” Kantor recalled. “I just wanted to get out of there with a win where no one got hurt either.”
In the end, Knight — the Bulls senior quarterback headed to Army to play football — threw a Pasco-County-record-tying eighth touchdown pass on Sept. 22 in the team’s 57-33 win over Harmony.
“When you’re a football player, your competitive nature is to win,” said Knight, who has passed 2,377 yards, 29 touchdowns and just one interception.
“(With) records, games — when we got to a point at halftime, we were like, ‘Let’s go get it.’ We all put our two cents in and said, ‘Let’s go for it, coach.’
“And we did.”
Knight tied the county record set in 2022 by Zephyrhills’ Brendyn Colella against Gulf, and also topped an impressive school record: six in a game (2020) by former quarterback Rocco Becht, now a redshirt freshman at Iowa State.
But the Bulls have more to go for, and hopefully get, before the season is done. Wiregrass Ranch — the program Kantor has guided for nine seasons —is in prime position to nab the Class 4 Suburban, District 6, which would give the Bulls home-field advantage.
This season, however, the team also wants to achieve its second-ever postseason win, with its only other coming in 2017 in a 17-10 victory over Lake Nona in the first round of the then-Class 7A regional tournament.
“Every time we go out there against an opponent it’s a 12-round bout and it will be every game,” said Kantor, who is 50-41 at Wiregrass, though the Bulls are 1-7 in the postseason. “We wanted to get back to our winning ways because it’s not the same beat, not the same vibe if we’re not in the playoffs.
“As long as we can continue to win, we should be in good shape.”
Heading down the final stretch of the season, the Bulls are in great shape.
According to FHSAA rankings in Class 4A Suburban, they are the No. 3 seed thanks to three-straight wins where the Bulls scored 50-plus points — 55-34 over Mitchell (Sept. 15), 52-45 over Springstead (Sept. 22) and 57-27 over River Ridge (Oct. 6).
However, Wiregrass realizes it’s in a tough region, with the likes of Lakeland, Bartow, Lake Minneola, Lake Gibson and George Jenkins lurking and also most likely headed to the postseason.
With just one district game left — at Land O’ Lakes on Oct. 27 — Wiregrass is looking to knock off the defending district champs and host a playoff game come the second Friday of November.
“Really, it’s about us going into the playoffs and winning a couple of games and going further than any (Wiregrass) team has gone before,” said Knight, a Merritt Island transfer this season and who guided Jesuit to a state title in 2021. “We’ve got every tool we need to win the district and we just have to stay consistent.
“I know nothing but to win — it’s just my nature. I try to win at everything I do in life. I know we want to win a lot more than one (postseason game) and winning more than one is not something this program is super used to, but for me and these guys, we want to go further than (one postseason game).”
Fellow senior, and Knight’s top target, receiver Isaiah Riggins agrees.
“We just have to focus on not letting the little things slide,” said Riggins, who leads the team with 910 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. “It’s up to us, the leaders, to make sure it doesn’t slide. We’ve got a standard and our goal this season is to go as far as we can.
“We don’t want to go just to the first round, the second round — we want to go to states, we want to go to the end.”
And getting to the end will rest on the shoulders of Knight, who, Kantor says, “has great leadership skills and brings excitement to everything he and the team does.”
“That’s Luke Knight,” Riggens added. “He’s a great leader on this team, he’s a great kid, a great friend, a great brother, and I wouldn’t want to go to war with any other quarterback. He does everything right and keeps everyone up on the field, the locker room and the classroom.
“He’s just great to be around, and I know he’ll keep the leadership up.”
Class 4 Suburban, District 6 Standings
(Team/Overall Record/District Record)
Wiregrass Ranch 6-1,3-0
Springstead 5-2, 2-1
Mitchell 4-3, 1-1
Land O’ Lakes 2-5, 0-2
Sunlake 1-6, 0-2
Published October 18, 2023