SPRING HILL - For a fourth straight season Springstead celebrated a homecoming game victory and in the process extended its series dominance over rival Central, blanking the Bears at Booster Stadium, 37-0.
SHS (6-1 overall, 3-0 county), behind its second straight shutout, claimed its sixth straight series win to climb to 14-9 lifetime against the Bears (0-7 overall, 0-3 county).
The loss was Central's seventh straight on the road and 15th in a row overall (extending the school record for the longest victory drought) - since rallying past Wildwood in Sumter County on Sept. 7, 2012.
Going in, the game featured a promising encounter pitting the county's two premier rushers: Central senior I-Back Robbie Bradley and Springstead senior quarterback Tyler Mahla.
Bradley arrived with a county-high 937 yards on 126 carries, featuring five touchdowns.
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Bradley was attempting to become the fourth Bear rusher to eclipse 1,000 yards in a single season since the millennium.
The short list featured DuJuan Harris in 2006 (195 carries/1,641 yards) and Tim Gaynor in 2001 (227 carries/1,845 yards) and 2002 (228 carries/1,351 yards).
Bradley had victimized five of his last six opponents for 100-plus rushing yards. He fell just short of the century mark against only one team - unbeaten Bushnell-South Sumter with 94.
But a fired up Springstead defense had other plans.
Not only did the Eagle defense restrict Bradley to 23 net yards on 15 carries (1.53 yards per carry), but sacked a trio of Bear quarterbacks four times.
CHS dressed 28 players. Last week's starting quarterback, Cody Brooks, was in a sling with a broken collarbone.
In all, first-year head coach Mike Garofano's defense limited CHS to 52 net yards on 46 offensive snaps - or a dismal 1.13 average per play.
The Bears, who came in averaging a county-best 234 rushing yards per game, were limited to a net 12 rushing yards on 31 attempts.
Sacks by juniors Juan Espinosa (two), Robert Holdway and Nathan Kocolowski spearheaded the Eagles' third whitewash of the season.
Moreover, a Bear team that arrived minus-7 in turnovers (ranking only behind Hernando's minus-8 in the county) coughed the ball up four more times: on interceptions by Eagle juniors Dylan McLeod and Brian Rae, and fumble recoveries by senior Tyler Toth and Rae.
Mahla again served as the Eagles' catalyst. The 6-foot, 155-pound signal caller, who arrived with 2,209 career rushing yards, shredded the Bears for a game-high 129 yards on 12 carries featuring four touchdowns (71, 27, 9, 1 yards).
Mahla scored three times in the first half to erect a 28-0 halftime cushion.
Mahla and backup Joe Jeffords engineered a mistake-free Eagle offensive attack that generated 374 offensive yards, including 259 via the rush.
Not that Mahla was alone.
Senior tailback Kevin Bedford chipped in 82 yards on nine carries while junior FB Daniel Wright added 36 yards on eight attempts.
Senior long snapper and backup fullback Malcolm Fitts rushed four times for 13 yards and tallied his second touchdown of the season from five yards out.
On special teams, Toth, who arrived 16-of-17 in point-afters, converted 4-of-5 PATs and buried a fourth-quarter 25-yard field goal (his third in four attempts) against a running clock.
"I realize Mahla's weekly stats sound like a broken record," said Coach Garofano, who is only the second Eagle mentor in 38 seasons to win six of his first seven games. "But he also threw the ball well and continued to make good decision after good decision. He's our leader. You need those type guys in the huddle."
On the team's homecoming game goal, "Our goal this week was to not allow Bradley to get his 1,000 yards here," identified Garofano. "They showed us a little something different to open the game. Once we got used to it, our D-line behind Jesse (Cowan), Travis (O'Neil) and Shane (Wiggins) created some opportunities for our linebackers."
On Espinosa's two sacks, "He's a scrappy kid," pointed out the former Eagle defensive coordinator, "He's so versatile. He can play inside linebacker, outside or at corner and won't lose a step."
On what Coach Garofano was most proud of, "I'm so pleased with the effort. Going into our bye week this way was huge. When we come back, we've got two really tough district games. It was critical to play solid in all three phases tonight. Except for one blocked kick, it was a tremendous all-around effort."
Toth bounced back after missing a chippy field goal and PAT last week at Fivay.
"Our mindset on offense was we wanted to get it done tonight," noted the 17-year-old Toth. "We certainly didn't take Central lightly."
Senior right guard Jameson Peppe thought the Eagles arrived in the right frame of mind.
"The O-line just came out pounding the ball at them," said the 17-year-old Peppe. "Coach kept emphasizing that we needed to finish our blocks tonight."
On the game's key, "Mahla was a beast," said Peppe. "He played fabulous. I couldn't ask for a better quarterback. This wasn't a district win, but it sets us up well going into the bye week."
Senior right tackle Michael Miara agreed with Peppe that the game was decided in the trenches.
"We executed so well and functioned so well as a team," noted the 17-year-old Miara. "The win's big because our offense has our defense's backs. And any time you get a shutout that's real big."
Espinosa not only celebrated a homecoming win, but performed well only hours prior to his 16th birthday.
"I did pretty well tonight," said Espinosa. "Our D-line set the tone early. Those guys give our linebackers and everybody else a chance to make plays.
"It was nice to receive an early birthday present. A win like this can only put a smile on our faces," added Espinosa. "I've got to give props to Mahla, too. He's always lights out and he's a great leader for our team."
Springstead 37, Central 0
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
CEN 0 0 0 0 --0
SPG 14 14 6 3 --37
SPG - Mahla 9 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Mahla 71 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Mahla 27 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Fitts 22 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Mahla 1 run (T. Toth kick blocked).
SPG - T. Toth 25 FG
First Downs 8 14
Atts./Rushing Yds. 31-12 38-259
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 4-15-2 6-13-0
Passing Yds. 40 115
Total Offense 46-52 51-374
Fumbles/Lost 3-2 1-0
Return Yards 7-26 2-0
Punts/Avg. 3-34.3 2-31.0
Penalties 5-25 5-37