BROOKSVILLE – Bill Vonada came to Hernando High having built Springstead into one of the steadiest programs in the area.
But from the administration to the boosters, the party line has been patience as he begins his first year as the Leopards’ head coach.
In Friday night’s spring classic at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium, Hernando looked about as expected, like a squad reeling from serious personnel hits via graduation, transfer or some undisclosed team issues, all while learning a new system.
The result, a 28-3 loss to visiting Crystal River, in which the Pirates took advantage of three Leopard turnovers.
“We just got so much to work on, but the biggest thing is the execution and the urgency,” Vonada said. “We started off good, a nice stop on defense, a nice opening drive, and then mistake, mistake. Mistakes that we cannot live with.
“Right now we’re certainly not playing at 100 percent. I don’t mean that personnel-wise, I mean execution-wise, mental-wise, focus-wise, effort-wise, and that’s what we’ve got to get. I know it’s a new system, I know it’s a new scheme, it’s a new way of doing things, but we don’t accept that.”
In a matchup of 3-7 squads from last fall, Crystal River scored a touchdown in each quarter.
After forcing the Pirates to go three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, Hernando pieced together a solid first drive, reaching the Crystal River 21 before fumbling the ball away, recovered by Tyler Pollard.
The Pirates turned that into points, going 75 yards on 10 plays, capped by a 31-yard touchdown run by Khyrel Harvey with 2:01 to go in the first quarter.
Hernando fumbled again on its next possession, this time giving Crystal River the ball on the Leopard 31.
To end that drive, Carlton Gadson made a nice juggling catch as he fell to the ground in the end zone on a 7-yard toss by Colin Ryan, making it 14-0 at the 10:52 mark of the second quarter.
All Ellison scored on a 19-yard run midway through the third, and Ryan found Keshion Hopkins for a scoring strike from 51 yards out early in the fourth.
Hernando’s only points came on a 30-yard field goal by William Neithammer as time expired in the third, a possession aided by two personal fouls called against the Pirates.
“We obviously had a lot of good things going on tonight, but a lot of dumb mistakes that we should be better at,” Crystal River head coach Nate Varnadore said. “Little technicalities that our kids got caught in the moment, but that’s OK, it’s very fixable. We will handle that.
“But I’m proud of them. They stayed through it. Especially when you have as many guys going both ways as us, that’s a huge handicap. So I’m very happy with our performance.”
Hernando managed just 129 yards of total offense, 65 rushing and 64 passing. The Leopards committed only one penalty, though it was a costly personal foul that helped set up the Pirates’ second score.
Larry O’Bonnon recovered a fumble for Hernando, Crystal River’s lone turnover. The Leopards failed to take advantage despite starting on the Pirate 19, thanks to a fourth-down interception at the goal line.
“We’ll go in, we’ll watch film on Monday,” Vonada said. “Everyone thinks a lot of times they played better than they did but that camera doesn’t lie.
“We’ll see what things we need to correct. We had guys that played very hard, we had some guys playing with passion, we had some guys playing through some adversity. We’ve just got to get more of them on the same page.”
That’s something that figures to take time, as Vonada donned the Purple and Gold for the first time in a game situation after 18 seasons coaching at his alma mater Springstead
“It feels a little odd being on this side of the sideline, but the bottom line is the guys are still the guys,” Vonada said. “I love them. I want them to pick it up, obviously. But they’re still young men that we want to turn into men of character, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Crystal River 28, Hernando 3
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
CR 7 7 7 7 — 28
HER 0 0 3 0 — 3
CR – Harvey 31 run (Wisnewski kick)
CR – Gadson 7 pass from Ryan (Wisnewski kick)
CR – Ellison 19 run (Wisnewski kick)
HER – Neithammer 30 field goal
CR – Hopkins 51 pass from Ryan (Wisnewski kick)
First Downs 8 9
Atts./Rushing Yds. 34-170 30-65
Comps./Pass/Atts/Int. 4-6-0 10-14-1
Passing Yds. 96 64
Total Offense 40-266 44-129
Return Yds. 1-34 5-93
Punts/Avg. 3-32.3 4-30.5
Fumbles/Lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties 6-51 1-15