Central High School
By Chris Bernhardt | Hernando TodaySpringstead at Land O' Lakes, 7:30 p.m.
Published: September 28, 2012
Published: September 28, 2012
The opponent seems to increase in quality incrementally every week, yet the story hasn't changed for Springstead thus far.
Last week's 13-7 win over Sunlake improved the Eagles to 4-0, and more importantly started them off at 1-0 in Class 6A, District 6.
The Seahawks are the reigning 6A-6 runners-up, and today brings a trip to perennial playoff contender Land O' Lakes.
"Last week's game was good in that we saw we can battle through some adversity," Springstead head coach Bill Vonada said. "What we can't do now is say 'OK, we've had some blowout wins, we've had some tough opponents and battled through adversity and won a close game, so let's get complacent.'
"Absolutely Land O' Lakes is an unbelievable measuring stick, but with this district as it is I don't you think can pin anything on one week until you get a little closer to the end of the season. I just think there are some unbelievable matchups there throughout the district.
"You hear the phrase 'Any given Friday' and I think that's certainly true. A very large, brutal district and we do have to take it one week at a time. This, however, is a very tough matchup."
The Gators (1-2 overall, 0-1 6A-6) have been a consistent stumbling block for the Eagles, winning 9-of-10 meetings on the field during Vonada's 15-year tenure.
Technically, the last two games between these two squads now belong to Springstead due to a Land O' Lakes forfeit for using an ineligible player.
Nevertheless, the Eagles have had their recent troubles in this series, whether at Booster Stadium or The Swamp.
But these aren't exactly the same Gators. Last year ended a 14-year streak of making the playoffs dating back to 1997.
They are still considerable formidable, though they appear more vulnerable.
A week ago at Hernando, Land O' Lakes suffered a heartbreaking 14-13 loss. That was without the services of senior running back Harrison Wood.
Wood rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening win over Zephyrhills, then injured his shoulder the following week against Pasco.
"Harrison Wood adds a whole new dimension to them," Vonada said. "He's such a complete back whether it's running the ball or ability to catch it out of the backfield; just a very dangerous threat.
"They played very well against Hernando without him. They're just that much better (with him). He's a whole new weapon for them."
He is expected to return this game, adding to the home-field advantage and motivation Vonada figures the Gators will have coming off a difficult defeat.
"They're very multi-faceted on offense and have shown the ability to play pretty tough defense. They had one defensive breakdown last week against Hernando and that was it," Vonada said.
"I saw them in person earlier in the season against Anclote, and I was very impressed with their ability to bring pressure up front."
Sunlake finally found a way to slow down the Springstead offense, limiting it to 94 total yards. Breakout sophomore running back Daniel Wright was limited to 31 yards and no touchdowns, after he scored twice in each of the first three games.
Quarterback Tyler Mahla completed 2-of-4 passes for 22 yards, though he did run in the Eagles' lone touchdown.
Springstead's defense, though, continues to hold firm, limiting the Seahawks to 111 yards, and has yielded 28 points combined.
Of course, even with the Eagles' success to this point, Vonada believes there are improvements to be made.
"We are expecting that we're going to have to play a lot better than we have the last couple of weeks in order to compete with (Land O' Lakes)," Vonada said.
"We're going to have to first of all continue to do what we do and not making the mistakes, not having the little mental breakdowns. We have to clean up a few assignment errors and really we've got to match their intensity level. Hopefully keep the game close and see what happens in the fourth quarter."
Hernando at Central, 7:30 p.m.
Hernando could finally breathe a sigh of relief last Friday night, recording its first win of the season when it defeated Land O' Lakes.
The Leopards can further put their 0-3 start behind them with another 6A-6 battle tonight. They travel to take on Central (1-3 overall, 0-1 6A-6) at the Bears' Den.
"The first win is usually a hard win. We got that first win," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "We had one of our best practices of the whole season (Wednesday). Hopefully that transfers to (Thursday's) practice and the game this week."
Mobley felt the defense and special teams units did their parts in beating the Gators. The offense, on the other hand, remains a concern.
Versatile senior Tyrail Hawkins and junior Ra'shaad Hart will each continue to see time under center.
Hawkins, the reigning Hernando Today Player of the Year, has completed 10-of-31 passes for 190 yards, throwing three touchdowns against three interceptions.
On the ground, he has rushed 31 times for a team-best 264 yards, and scored three times, also a team high.
Hart is 5-of-13 passing for 36 yards and has been picked off once, and run 20 times for 85 yards.
Yet in a major issue for both players, they've each lost three fumbles.
"Tyrail is a very good quarterback, but Tyrail can play a lot of positions good," Mobley said. "We've still got to get Ra'shaad to the point where he's running plays right."
Blocking is the critical offensive shortcoming, according to the coach, and that won't be helped by the absence of right tackle Connor Foradas, out this week with an injured shoulder.
Linebacker/punter Justin Roberts is also nursing a banged-up shoulder, forcing him to miss this contest. Hart, the punter at the start of the season, will reclaim those duties.
Meanwhile, the Bears are attempting to recover from a 47-0 loss to Nature Coast this past Friday.
"We've regrouped," Central head coach Mike Einspahr said. "The sun came up on Monday. We came back to work, had a good week of practice. We're not worrying about what went wrong against Nature Coast. We're concentrating on Hernando.
"They've lost a couple games, but they've played an awfully grueling non-district schedule. We don't ever look at records. They're a great ball club. We have to bring our 'A' game and then some."
The Nature Coast tilt was a step backward after a win over Wildwood and a close defeat at the hands of Lecanto provided glimmers of hope for Central.
"We can't give up silly turnovers deep in our own territory," Einspahr said. "We've got to be able to tackle. Hold on to the football and tackle.
"If we can compete for four quarters that would be a huge step in the right direction."
The Leopards have won four straight in this series and have utterly dominated during that span, outscoring the Bears 190-13. Hernando has won by shutout the past two meetings.
"I just want us to play a complete game," Mobley said. "We can't take nobody light. Everybody who comes in to play us, we have to play hard. Our guys have got to come out and play.
"It's very important every week to capitalize and try to do some of the things we didn't do this week next week, because this is all a building process. Hopefully we'll peak at playoff time."
This game will be carried live on WWJB 1450 AM and streamed live at wwjb.com, beginning with the pregame show at 7 p.m.
Nature Coast at River Ridge, 7:30 p.m.
Within the matter of a couple of weeks, the outlook at Nature Coast has changed considerably.
The Sharks have shaken off a 0-2 start by winning their past two contests, including their blowout triumph over Central to open their 6A-6 slate.
Tonight's meeting at River Ridge (1-2 overall, 0-1 6A-6) offers an opportunity to keep moving forward.
"That was sort of the hope and sort of the game plan. If we could get back on track, get to 2-2 and playing well, the kids would have a little more confidence, and they do," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said.
"We feel pretty good about this week's game. You don't take anything for granted, but we're at a point where we need to continue working on our confidence. As our confidence rises, we'll play better and better."
What turned things around for the Sharks? Liggett stressed that it doesn't come down to one obvious fix.
Junior quarterback Ryan Quigley and the passing game appear to have settled in over the past two games, as he has completed 8-of-14 passes for 92 yards, with three touchdowns against no interceptions.
Nature Coast has desperately sought a complement to senior running Matt Breida, who has already rushed for 603 yards and six scores.
"I think we're getting more maturity on offense," Liggett said. "It's a young offense other than Matt Breida, as far as experience."
Subtle tweaks on defense have additionally made a difference, and it would seem the Sharks have a strong chance to maintain their newfound progress.
River Ridge posted its first winning record since 1999 by going 7-3 in 2011, coached by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer long snapper Ryan Benjamin.
But the Royal Knights have gotten off to a shaky start, exacerbated by last week's 46-3 defeat at Mitchell.
Numerous personnel losses are the probable cause for River Ridge's backward slide. One player who did return, senior quarterback Josh Maisel, is 15-of-37 passing for 170 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
He has run 26 times for a team-high 265 yards and scored once on the ground.
"Losing all those players they had last year, I think they've had difficulty in replacing them," Liggett said. "But no matter who you are playing, when things click, they click.
"Any time a team has a good quarterback and they're throwing it as much as they throw it, there's always a chance to complete a pass. What my thought is, we can't give (Maisel) time to look around for people."
Nature Coast certainly has other reasons not to look past the Royal Knights. In this same week a year ago, the Sharks beat River Ridge, 20-13.
That improved them to 3-2. However, they would fall in three of their next four.
"Last year we had momentum and took a couple steps back," Liggett said. "That can't happen again. We have our goals like everybody else has. We want to get to the playoffs.
"We're not 4-0 like other people in the district. But this middle of the season, it's huge. We've got to stay on track."
Keystone Heights at Weeki Wachee, 7:30 p.m.
Yes, Weeki Wachee has dropped two in a row following its surprising season-opening victory at Central.
Last Friday's 38-15 loss to 4A-4 foe Umatilla – a team receiving six votes in the 4A Associated Press state poll – appears lopsided.
But consider that the Hornets (1-2 overall, 0-1 4A-4) led 15-14 heading into the fourth quarter, even with losing their starting quarterback.
Tonight Weeki Wachee hosts another district opponent, Keystone Heights, and thus far the first-year program has put together a representative varsity debut.
"We did pretty well for three quarters (against Umatilla) and just fell apart," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "We gave up 24 points in a matter of five minutes. The kids realize in that game, we had a shot at it and it got away from us.
"We held our own against a team that was undefeated and it was a district game. Not many people expected us to even be in that game.
"There's a confidence you get from not being walked on, being able to compete, and teams will realize that we're not going to back down no matter who you are."
Unfortunately for the Hornets, they paid a heavy price at Umatilla, when junior signal caller David Tinch suffered a hip injury in the second quarter.
He won't play today and his status going forward remains up in the air. Sophomore Marcus Allen figures to get the lion's share of the snaps, though Lee said Jon King and Shawn O'Gorman are also in the mix.
Allen completed 4-for-7 passes for 50 yards, tossing a touchdown and an interception in relief of Tinch. He also rushed for a 69-yard score.
"In a way it's a good challenge. I've got to prepare somebody to be able to play quarterback in a short amount of time," said Lee, himself a former quarterback.
"Marcus is a guy; he is one of our better athletes in the school. He can do some things. He's got some talent. He has decent speed and he's one of our top playmakers.
"It brings an added element to the game with him at the quarterback position. He'll have his hands on the ball every play."
Keystone Heights comes in 3-1, including a 1-0 district mark thanks to a 34-0 win over Interlachen last week.
The Indians operate a run-heavy offense, amassing 878 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Nearly half that production belongs to senior Alex Gonzales, who has carried the ball 81 times for 434 yards and found the end zone six times.
"They're a very sound team. They don't make a lot of mistakes. Defensively they're aggressive and they get after the ball carrier," Lee said.
"They get in the I (formation), run the power, the trap, the iso and the counter. They run that very well. They've got hard runners. From a passing standpoint, they spread it out a little bit and run the short game."
For Weeki Wachee to provide its home fans with another respectable showing, Lee has a simple formula.
"If we eliminate mental mistakes," Lee said, "I think we have a chance to be competitive."
email@example.com (352) 544-5288