Central High School
By Chris Bernhardt | Hernando TodaySpringstead at Hernando, 7:30 p.m.
Published: October 19, 2012
Published: October 19, 2012
A meeting between Hernando and Springstead can stand on its own, requiring little fuel to stoke the competitive fires of those involved.
The county rivalry alone holds enough cache to make this a marquee matchup.
But what if both teams were tied for first place in the district, each with an unbeaten mark in Class 6A, District 6 action?
Just to pile on, how about if this were homecoming week at Hernando?
These aren't really hypothetical scenarios. Those elements all come together tonight at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium, as the Leopards take on the Eagles.
"If our guys don't understand how big this, they haven't been paying attention," Springstead head coach Bill Vonada said.
At the start of the season, most prognosticators pegged Hernando (4-3 overall, 4-0 6A-6) as the favorite to repeat as district champ.
Springstead (7-0 overall, 4-0 6A-6) figured to land somewhere in the middle of the pack, coming off a 4-6 campaign in 2011.
But that was on paper. Once the games started up, at least initially, the Eagles bolted to the forefront.
While the Leopards stumbled to a 0-4 start, Springstead stormed out of the gate with several impressive victories.
The Eagles have remained on a roll through district play, while Hernando appears to have found its footing with four straight wins.
"We're in a good spot," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "We're almost where I want us to be. We're not quite there yet. I want us to be where we drive down the field at will. Right now we're making too many mental mistakes."
Within 6A-6, these two squads have faced the same four opponents – Central, Land O' Lakes, River Ridge and Sunlake.
The case could be made that the Eagles have generally defeated those teams in more impressive fashion. Only against River Ridge have the Leopards won by a greater margin, 33-0 two weeks ago compared to 21-7 by Springstead last Friday.
In that win over the Royal Knights, the Eagles truly struggled for the first time, failing to score until the third quarter.
"We just didn't seem to fire on all cylinders until the second half," Vonada said. "Uncharacteristic penalties in the first half; some dropped passes, missed assignments, things like that kept stopping us offensively.
"As well as the River Ridge defense, give them credit. We felt they stepped up and played a better game than they have, which we knew they were capable of."
One area where Springstead did not falter was the defense. The Eagles picked off two passes and nearly recorded their third shutout of the year.
Hernando has struggled at times offensively, though Ra'shaad Hart has surpassed 100 yards rushing three straight games, totaling 423 over that span.
"Our defense has played well for the most part, but this is a whole different level," Vonada said. "We'll see more speed on the field than we have all season.
"If we play up to our capability, I love our defense. It'll be fun to watch."
Though the Leopard defense hasn't been as statistically dominant as the Eagles' unit, it has been stout in recent years.
A week ago, two late interceptions preserved a 14-10 triumph over Sunlake.
"They've got a very good defense just like we've got a very good defense," Mobley said. "Somebody's offense has to break through."
Not only does Hernando need to find a way to score against Springstead, a team permitting just seven points per game, it also has to avoid its trend of turnovers.
Crispness of play is perhaps the biggest difference between these clubs
"That's going to be very critical, because this team doesn't fumble the ball often," Mobley said of the Eagles. "We don't want to give them the ball when we're going to score or on our side of the field."
Mobley also believes special teams could prove pivotal in this one.
But in the end, each coach felt it would come down to his respective group performing up to form in a playoff-like setting.
"I think it's going to be a very intense atmosphere. You almost expect the air to be thick," Vonada said.
"We'll just have to wait and see. We've had big games this year, games we knew we had to come out and play well. But certainly not to this degree."
"I think it's going to be very electric," Mobley said. "And with Springstead being right around the corner, I'm sure a lot of their fans will come out to support their team. With them being undefeated, that's a very big game."
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.
Nature Coast at Mitchell, 7:30 p.m.
While the Eagles and Leopards are clearly the main event within today's 6A-6 action, that's certainly not the district's only meaningful clash.
When Nature Coast (4-3 overall, 3-1 6A-6) travels to Mitchell (6-1 overall, 3-1 6A-6), one team will end the night still very much in the playoff hunt.
Each squad has games remaining over the next two weeks versus Springstead and Hernando, so the winner will control its own destiny.
"It's an elimination-type game," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "I truly think no one with more than one loss is going to have a chance.
"As far as the playoffs are concerned, it's a must-win. But we don't prepare each week to lose, anyway."
The focus of this matchup is easy to determine. Look no further than the season rushing totals.
Of course, the Sharks can boast senior running back Matt Breida, who now sits at 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
A passing game helmed by quarterbacks Ryan Quigley and Trevor Castro has shown potential, especially when the ball heads in the direction of sophomore wide receiver Jonathan Thomas (20 catches, 264 yards, three touchdowns).
Yet Nature Coast with its veer attack has totaled 1,650 yards and 18 scores via the run, compared to 417 and five through the air.
Not to be outdone, the Mustangs have piled up 1,929 yards and 26 touchdowns running the ball out of a Wing-T system.
In contrast to the Sharks, they've done it with exceptional balance. Junior Christian Trinidad leads the team with 113 carries for 718 yards and 10 scores.
Behind him is senior Dan Barber (634 yards, eight touchdowns) and sophomore Ryan Marsh (291 yards, five touchdowns).
Mitchell has shown some ability to throw the ball, as senior Trey Drury has completed 17-of-32 pass for 466 yards, tossing eight touchdowns against four interceptions.
But there's no doubt what the Mustangs have built their reputation on under veteran headman Scott Schmitz.
"They run that ball so well. They gain a lot of yards," Liggett said. "We had some trouble with Sunlake (two weeks ago) with their zone blocking and the way things were set up in the rain. But I don't recall having a lot of difficultly stopping the run before that game.
"Against the Wing-T, you've got to prepare for it differently. I'm eager to see how we stand up defensively against their high-powered rushing offense."
Two key players should return for the Sharks after missing last week with ankle injuries, outside linebacker/punt returner Luis Espinosa and inside linebacker Joey Berrios.
Liggett was pleased with the way fill-ins such as sophomore Dylan Miller stepped up in a 28-17 win over Land O' Lakes.
That kept Nature Coast's postseason dreams alive after they received a crushing blow thanks to a 14-13 loss at Sunlake the previous Friday.
The Sharks will need to do it all over again to keep that hope from dwindling.
"I think it gets a little bigger each week," Liggett said. "We got over the hurdle so to speak (beating Land O' Lakes last week) to be in that position. But now we're in that position where every game is a big district game you need to win to get to the next step."
Central at River Ridge, 7:30 p.m.
For Central, each game this season has been about finding steps in a positive direction.
At this point, River Ridge can relate. A couple of teams with matching 6A-6 records (0-4) square off tonight in New Port Richey.
"I think I'll be very competitive," Central head coach Mike Einspahr said. "They're a tough team. Their quarterback is a very good quarterback. They're big up front. I think they've been dealt some blows with injury and some adversity.
"It's their homecoming. They've got a lot going for them. We need to play well, hang in there and have some key things happen."
The Bears (1-6) fell to Mitchell last week, 43-24, but could feel good about finishing the game scoring 21 unanswered points.
Conversely, the Royal Knights (1-5) shockingly held Springstead scoreless in the first half before succumbing, 21-7.
"They changed up their defensive philosophy a little bit," said Einspahr, having watched that game on film. "(Springstead quarterback Tyler) Mahla made some uncharacteristic mistakes in my opinion.
"Offensively they went to a three-receiver set more. They've been a traditional I (formation) team for the most part."
River Ridge senior signal caller Josh Maisel continues to garner attention from opposing coaches.
The two-way threat has completed 39-of-90 passes for 566 yards, with five touchdowns against five picks, and run for 377 yards and three scores.
Central hopes to contain him and start finishing off drives.
"We've been very good in between the 20s. We've been able to move the ball," Einspahr said. "As long as there's not a brick wall at the 20-yard line, I think things will be all right. It's just getting past that brick wall for us."
Weeki Wachee at Starke-Bradford, 7:30 p.m.
After having to face the second-ranked 4A team in the state, South Sumter, and suffering a predictably lopsided 70-7 defeat, Weeki Wachee doesn't exactly catch a break.
The Hornets (1-5 overall, 0-4 4A-4) must travel over two hours to Starke-Bradford (4-2 overall, 2-1 4A-4).
"We're still working to get better," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "The guys aren't quitting, which is good. And they didn't quit last week, which I was happy to see.
"We've had a great week of practice. Hopefully that transfers to (tonight)."
There is some good news for the Hornets. Quarterback David Tinch is ready to take some snaps for the first time in 3 1/2 games, having recovered from an injured hip.
The junior did return last week as a punter, and will now split duties under center with sophomore Marcus Allen.
"David is obviously a little more from the throwing standpoint," Lee said. "But Marcus can still throw and he can also run.
"Being out a couple of weeks has helped (Tinch) be able to see it from the sideline and see how things work. Just getting the mental reps helps him."
Tailback/free safety Jon King (shoulder) and fullback/linebacker Andrew Vreeland (right thumb) are unavailable for a second consecutive contest.
Aside from a 41-0 loss to South Sumter, Bradford has played well within the district. The Tornadoes downed Umatilla, 33-0, and Keystone Heights, 28-21.
"They're fast," Lee said. "They've got some speed, they've got some athletes. Offensively, they like throwing the ball and they've got some players that can make things happen.
"You've got to go right at them. You can't be hesitant. You might as well go full-go, because they're going to go full-go."
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