The second round of the state football playoffs is often about second chances.
For Miramar junior Eric Pittman, Friday’s night Region 3-8A semifinal showdown at Cypress Bay (9-2) is more than just a rematch with a district rival. It’s an opportunity for him to try to put one of the most embarrassing moments of his young career completely behind him.
“I made a bonehead mistake,” said Pittman, a 5-8, 170-pound tailback who is ultimately the biggest reason why the Patriots (7-4) are not hosting Friday’s game and instead entered the playoffs as the District 12-8A runner-up.
“I’ve worked really hard getting over it. I did learn a lot from it. Every time I get an opportunity I go hard, don’t take [any] plays off.”
The play Pittman is now infamous for wasn’t the result of him taking a play off. It was the consequence for starting to celebrate a little too prematurely.
With Cypress Bay leading 17-13 and under five minutes to play, Pittman fielded a punt at around his 30 and put on a zig-zag clinic, leaving Lightning defenders in his dust. But as he raced toward the end zone with what appeared to be the go-ahead score, he slowed down, turned around and began jogging backwards toward the goal line.
“I was just so excited, hyped,” Pittman said.
Cypress Bay safety Gavin Anderson, who never stopped hustling on the play, eventually blindsided Pittman and forced a fumble. Miramar pounced on it at the Cypress Bay 5-yard line, but the Patriots never fully recovered from the initial blow and turned the ball over twice down the stretch before losing the game.
“He learned a lot running around the track that next week, I can tell you that,” said Miramar coach Damon Cogdell, who said he had no idea Pittman had been tackled by Anderson because he had already turned around to signal his special teams unit to come on for the extra point.
“After the game, I gave him the cold treatment, didn’t say too much to him. He was waiting for me to say something, and I just didn’t say it. I had to let him know how we do things here at Miramar. We don’t celebrate in the end zone, we celebrate on the sidelines with our teammates. He learned from that mistake.”
Pittman’s woes didn’t end with the Cypress Bay game. A week later, he fumbled again on a punt return late in the game against Boyd Anderson. The Cobras cashed it in for the go-ahead score.
“He was in the tank for about a week or two after that,” Cogdell said. “Then I think we played Western, and he busted a long run and we knew we had something special. He’s been great the last couple weeks. I compare him to [University of Miami freshman] Duke Johnson. He’s that type of explosive back with great vision.”
Pittman, who spent last season sitting behind nationally ranked juniors Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby at Miami Central, has quickly worked himself up the running back ranks at Miramar.
Since leading rusher Alex Lee went down for the season with a torn meniscus against Boyd Anderson on Oct. 12, Cameron Rigby (5-8, 165) has served as the Patriots’ primary ball carrier, rushing for a team-leading 633 yards on 120 attempts. But over Miramar’s past three games, Pittman has seen more work than ever.
Although he was held to just 20 yards on 17 carries in last week’s 3-0 victory over South Plantation in monsoon-like conditions, Pittman ran for 225 yards and four touchdowns on just 18 combined carries over the final two weeks of the regular season.
Now Patriots coaches are referring to Pittman and Rigby as Slash and Dash.
“It feels awesome just to have opportunities to play,” said Pittman, who a year ago ran for 300 yards and a touchdown on just 27 carries in mostly mop-up duty at Central.
“Cypress Bay is a big game for all of us, the whole team. Getting past this level would mean a lot — especially to me.”