BROOKSVILLE - Imagine first-year Springstead skipper Mike Garofano's dilemma Friday night.
Problem was the Eagles were attempting to accomplish what no previous Spring Hill grid squad had ever achieved - leave the crowded and boisterous Shark Tank Stadium with a win.
Since carving out a 43-0 series-opening win at Booster Stadium against the Sharks in 2005, SHS had dropped seven straight meetings. In that span, SHS hadn't scored more than 15 points in any game against NCT.
Garofano's task was to spoil NCT head coach Charles Liggett's bid for his 13th career win on Friday the 13th.
Amid another capacity crowd, NCT's student body duplicated Texas A&M's tradition of standing - a display of solidarity backing the team - throughout the game chanting "This is our house."
But Springstead senior quarterback Tyler Mahla ruined the Shark proceedings by rushing for a career-high 185 yards, scoring three touchdowns (1, 3 and 78 yards) and navigating a mistake-free offense in a 24-7 win over the Eagles' archrivals.
Being efficient was critical.
In head coach Bill Vonada's final season in 2012, SHS lost two fumbles in 428 rushing attempts across 11 games. By comparison, SHS had lost the turnover battle in its first two games and had suffered an uncharacteristic six turnovers, including four lost fumbles.
In a game where the Springstead offense outgained NCT by over a 3-to-1 ratio - 356-103 yards - the visitors totaled 17 first downs to the hosts' six.
The win permitted the Eagles to improve to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the county ranks. Moreover it snapped a previous 0-4 slate at Shark Tank.
NCT, which lost 25 lettermen including 17 offensive and defensive starters from 2012, dipped to 0-2 overall, 0-1 within the county ranks as the Sharks were handcuffed to one rushing first down and 47 rushing yards in 29 attempts (1.62 yards per carry average).
"This (win) was huge," said Garofano after the game. "The kids are so happy; they really wanted this. It's just nice to get over the hump."
On the game's complexion, "When they blocked our punt that changed the game. They held us in check until the drive right before halftime," recalled Garofano. "Football is a game of momentum and it was huge to score right before halftime."
Garofano did not mince his words on his team's MVP, saying, "Mahla was huge. He's our leader. He works harder than anybody we've got. He wanted it more than anybody here.
"To me, we're fortunate, when he's out there it's like he's another coach on the field."
"This feels pretty good," said the 17-year-old Mahla, who concluded the game 8-of-12 through the air for 79 yards to go over the 2,000-yard career passing mark. "It just feels good getting a win here. I feel like I restored the order."
The keys to victory, according to Mahla, belonged to the guys blocking for him.
"The O-line and our receivers did a great job and had a great game," pointed out Mahla. "These guys sacrificed their bodies for the good of the team."
Third-year NCT mentor Liggett emphasized in the pregame that his young and inexperienced team needed to protect the football, but the Sharks lost the turnover battle - losing a fumble by Cameron Syblis (recovered by Tyler Toth) and suffering one interception (a pick off of Jamison Carnegie by Dylan McLeod).
The Sharks capitalized on the one Eagle miscue.
Trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter, sophomore Jacob Grantz blocked a punt by Mahla.
Blessed with ideal field position at the Eagle 27, NCT needed five snaps to cover the distance and knot the score. Starting quarterback Ryan Quigley's 20-yard pass to tight end Ryan Roscillo set up a first-and-goal at the Eagle 4.
On the next play, sophomore tailback DeShawn Smith scored his second touchdown of the season. Following a penalty - one of NCT's nine for a game-high 75 yards - junior placekicker Austin Lacy split the uprights with no time showing on the clock.
From that point forward, SHS countered by reeling off the game's final 17 points.
The visitors went into the locker room with momentum after concluding the first half with an impressive two-minute offensive performance led by Mahla.
Mahla's crew pieced together a 13-play, 84-yard drive from its own 5-yard line, collecting five first downs.
In the critical drive blending run and pass, Mahla clicked on 5-of-7 passes for 45 yards.
After the drive bogged down at the Shark 11, Toth converted his first-ever field goal attempt - from 29 yards - with three seconds remaining, 10-7.
The game's complexion tilted on the Sharks' second offensive possession of the third quarter, when Syblis fumbled an exchange from backup signal caller Jamison Carnegie on a strip by Shane Wiggins.
Toth, who was playing safety, alertly recovered the bobble.
SHS, which finished 2012 with a county-leading plus-18 in the turnover battle, seized the moment with a nine-play, 53-yard scoring drive.
Mahla, who opened the scoring on the game's first drive with a 3-yard run capping a 12-play, 77-yard scoring effort, did the honors again from a yard out.
Toth's second of three perfect point-after kicks with 1:51 upped the score, 17-7.
With 10:11 left in the game, Mahla applied the dagger with a career-best 78-yard scoring gallop. His previous personal-high was 66 yards as a sophomore.
Toth followed Mahla's county-best sixth touchdown of the season with his seventh straight PAT to close the books.
The Eagle defense was personified by senior defensive tackle's Travis O'Neil's three tackles behind the line of scrimmage. That was one reason why Smith was the Sharks' leading ball carrier with a paltry 17 yards in eight carries.
"We got coached up real well for this game. Credit belongs to all our coaches," stressed the 17-year-old O'Neil. "The key was we followed our game plan and did what we had to do."
On the game's significance, he added, "It's huge. I'd be lying if I told you last year's loss to Nature Coast didn't hurt. This (win) doesn't make up for it, but it sure helps. This one belongs to Coach Vonada and Coach Garofano."
Toth reminded everyone how solid Mahla played.
"Tyler had a great game. He not only ran well, but he threw the ball well, too," noted the 17-year-old Toth. "It's been eight years since we beat Nature Coast; it was great."
On the kick that snapped the tie, "It was a great snap, great hold and I did what I do in practice every day," shrugged Toth. "I thought our offense executed well all night."
After Toth's field goal gave the Eagles a lead they never relinquished, "Coming out in the second half, we knew we had to shut them down," he recalled.
On the clincher, "When Tyler (Mahla) scored on the long touchdown, it was over," said Toth. "The momentum was completely on our side by then."
Springstead 24, Nature Coast 7
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
SPG 7 3 7 7 -- 24
NCT 7 0 0 0 -- 7
SPG - Mahla 3 run (T. Toth kick).
NCT - Smith 4 run (Lacy kick).
SPG - T. Toth 29 field goal.
SPG - Mahla 1 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Mahla 78 run (T. Toth kick).
First Downs 17 6
Atts./Rushing Yds. 47-277 29-47
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 8-12-0 6-12-1
Passing Yds. 79 56
Total Offense 59-356 41-103
Fumbles/Lost 0 1-1
Return Yards 4-34 8-46
Punts/Avg. 5-38.8 6-37.0
Penalties 5-33 9-75