Central High School
By Chris Bernhardt Jr. | Hernando TodayNature Coast at Springstead, 7:30 p.m.
Published: November 2, 2012
Published: November 2, 2012
This one could have been huge, perhaps as big as any matchup of two Hernando County squads and certainly monumental within Class 6A, District 6.
Nature Coast (5-4 overall, 4-2 6A-6) could have arrived at Booster Stadium tonight to take on Springstead (9-0 overall, 6-0 6A-6) with the district title hanging in the balance.
Instead, following the events of last week's games, this one only matters for pride, and a bit of history.
The Eagles are 6A-6 champs, their first district crown since 1996. The Sharks are out of the playoffs, embarking on their final contest of 2012.
That fate was sealed once Nature Coast fell to Hernando a week ago, 14-7.
"You go from last Friday, looking at possibly we're 7-3 and district champs, and when you lose it's a huge letdown," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "It really changes the whole dynamic.
"Emotionally preparing for the kids and coaches, it's tough. It's harder than normal, much harder than it would be if we won."
Now the question is how much spice will this contest have?
On one hand, the Eagles know they have a regional quarterfinal two weeks away. On the other, they have a chance to become the third team in recorded county history to go 10-0, joining Hernando in 1949 and Hernando Christian Academy in 2008.
"I think we look at it as a very big opportunity," Springstead head coach Bill Vonada said. "Our first and foremost goal was to make the playoffs and prepare for that. But you don't get too many opportunities in your life to do that, so that's what's on our minds.
"We expect everybody to play. But we cannot be satisfied with just making the playoffs. I don't know that you say everything is on the table. I don't think you can be successful doing that. We're going to play to win. We'll do the best job that we can Friday night."
Then there's the small matter of the county rivalry, something that always seems to factor in twice as heavily when the Sharks are involved.
It's worth noting that Nature Coast has captured the last six meetings between these two neighboring foes. The Eagles' lone win against the Sharks was their initial tilt in 2005.
"I think when it comes to Springstead, from the principal on down, we're public enemy number one," Liggett said. "I think the place is going to be packed. Last week was a big deal, but there were nowhere near as many people as will be in the Springstead stands."
Liggett said he has taken a more relaxed approach to practice, wanting to get his team back in a positive frame of mind.
In its attempt to play spoiler, Nature Coast will at least have its greatest weapon at its disposal. Senior running back Matt Breida, the county's leading rusher with 1,278 yards and 15 touchdowns, should be available despite a back injury that knocked him out against Hernando.
"He's cleared to play and he feels good," Liggett said. "He went through all the tests he had to pass. Right now, he's going to play."
Likewise, Springstead senior center/placekicker Scott Baker has received clearance to give it a go after suffering an apparent leg injury late in last week's win over Mitchell.
However, Vonada was noncommittal as to how big a role Baker would play. Jameson Peppe could shift from guard to center while James Kern slides in at guard, and Ricky Toth may handle Baker's kicking duties.
Other than that, Vonada anticipates sending out his regular lineup in typical fashion, knowing he has some leeway to rest guys thanks to a bye next week.
"We expect they're going to come at us full bore," Vonada said of Nature Coast. "They always play hard, they're very well-coached. We know it's a very big game, especially in light of the fact it's the end of their season.
"We can't afford to be thinking about the playoffs. We can't come out with anything less than our 'A' game. If we do, we're in trouble."
The Eagles still don't know their postseason opponent, anyway. They'll host the winner of tonight's clash between Citrus and Ocala-Vanguard for the 6A-5 runner-up spot.
None of that makes a difference to the Sharks at this point. They can't crash the postseason party, so they'll have to settle for a chance to temper the Springstead celebration.
"They're going to the playoffs and they're district champs and want to be county champs," Liggett said. "We want to put as much of a monkey wrench in that as we can."
Hernando at Mitchell, 7:30 p.m.
After grinding through three straight critical district games, suddenly Hernando finds itself in an unusual position.
When the Leopards (5-4 overall, 5-1 6A-6) travel to New Port Richey to face Mitchell (6-3 overall, 3-3 6A-6) today, in the regular-season finale for both clubs, there is truly nothing at stake.
Hernando already knows it will visit 6A-5 champ Gainesville in two weeks for a postseason battle as the 6A-6 runner-up.
"We're still going into this week as if we weren't in the playoffs," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "We want to go into the playoffs with a win, not coming off a loss.
"This is a regular game for us. We're not holding anything back."
Last week the Leopards managed to shake off a defeat to Springstead the previous Friday and hold off Nature Coast, ensuring a third consecutive postseason berth.
Hernando's defense stepped up in a big way, holding the Sharks to 113 yards of total offense, and rallied from an early 7-0 hole.
"Guys played a lot harder against Nature Coast than Springstead," Mobley said. "Springstead wanted it more than we wanted it and played together as a team. There are still people not doing what we want them to do all the time, but that's getting corrected.
"It (beating the Sharks) was a step in the right direction because before if a team got up on us some of the guys would go in the tank, not play as hard. This (past) week, a team got on top of us and guys stepped up and played hard."
The Mustangs, meanwhile, are limping to the finish line, struggling with a multitude of injuries and a two-game losing streak.
This marks Mitchell's fourth meeting in a row against a Hernando County opponent. A 43-24 triumph over Central was followed by defeats of 32-0 and 35-0 to the Sharks and Eagles.
"Teams like that are still dangerous," Mobley said. "You think they've lost this person, they've lost that person, but maybe somebody sitting in the wings plays better than who they lost."
The Leopards figure to know how to handle the Mustangs' Wing-T offense, considering they ran the same system under previous head coach John Palmer.
Personnel losses and tough defenses have conspired to hold Mitchell to a combined 232 rushing yards the past two games.
According to Mobley, Hernando won't ease up on the banged-up Mustangs, either. The Leopards aren't looking ahead to the playoffs quite yet.
"That's the last thing I'm thinking about," Mobley said. "Gainesville will be next week. This is the next team on the list and that's what we're going to do."
This game will be carried live on WWJB 1450 AM and WXJB 99.9 FM, and streamed live at wwjb.com, beginning with the pregame show at 7 p.m.
Jacksonville-Duval Charter at Weeki Wachee, 7:30 p.m.
Perhaps more than any other point in the season, Weeki Wachee should be in a festive mood heading into tonight's game against Duval Charter.
For one, it's homecoming – though more accurately called Spirit Week, since the third-year school has yet to produce a graduating class.
"The kids are fired up," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "There's been a lot of school spirit shown. It's a lot of fun. That being said, not too many coaches like homecoming due to the distractions.
"The kids are handling it well. They know not too many people will remember what happened homecoming week, but they'll remember who won the game."
The Hornets (2-6) are also coming off a successful conclusion to their 4A-4 slate, a 29-22 overtime win at Interlachen.
That game featured a stirring fourth-quarter comeback, after Weeki Wachee trailed 22-7.
"We were happy about the second half from last week's game," Lee said. "The first half was very dismal. The kids responded and played a very good second half. They're excited to try to win two games in a row, which we haven't done.
"The offensive line blocked better. Marcus Allen went in at quarterback full-time and really was a spark. He made some unbelievable plays. He definitely was an energizer from an offensive standpoint.
"Defensively, we buckled down and started making tackles. We played aggressive. We need to continue to play aggressive."
Another victory is not that farfetched. Duval Charter (1-7) is a first-year varsity program, as well, though unlike the Hornets the Panthers had no prior JV campaigns.
They failed to score in their first four games and were outscored 358-8 over their initial five.
However, the Panthers did defeat Beacon of Hope Christian – a winless team from St. Augustine which like Duval Charter is an FHSAA independent – 32-14 last Friday.
"Where they're located in Jacksonville, I used to live there, so I know they've got some athletes," Lee said. "They're young, but that'll be an up-and-coming program.
"We're catching them at the wrong time, because they'll have a lot of confidence coming in. We've got to jump on them early.
"If we play the way we did in the second half against Interlachen, I definitely think we have a good opportunity."
Weeki Wachee will likely be without quarterback David Tinch due to a bad back. Allen, who started in place of Tinch when he was out with a hip issue, will get the call under center.
Last week, the sophomore Allen was 4-of-7 passing for 181 yards and three touchdowns, all his completions caught by Jon King. Allen also ran for 40 yards.
Fullback/linebacker Andrew Vreeland returned from a right thumb injury last week, but is again a game-time decision thanks to a bruised knee.
Central at Sunlake, 7:30 p.m.
Another difficult season for Central (1-8 overall, 0-6 6A-6) reaches its conclusion at Sunlake (6-2 overall, 4-2 6A-6) tonight.
The Bears played tough last week against Land O' Lakes, yet ultimately dropped a 31-14 decision that assures they will end up at the bottom of the district standings.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks saw their chance at back-to-back playoff appearances go by the wayside when Hernando downed Nature Coast.
Sunlake, under former Springstead and Hernando head coach Bill Browning, has played stout defense all year, permitting just 80 points combined.
Two seniors, running back Eddie Burgos (787 yards, 11 touchdowns) and quarterback Josh Zifer (770 yards), have spearheaded the Seahawks' rushing attack.
That'll be a handful for the Bears to stop, and they've been consistently gouged on the ground. Only two opponents – Wildwood and Springstead – have failed to produce a 100-yard rusher.
As Central head coach Mike Einspahr said last week, he wants to see his team compete for four quarters and build momentum for the offseason.
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