BUSHNELL - A district that has already produced some eyebrow-raising results promised to deliver more head scratching Friday night.
Hernando traveled to Bushnell to face South Sumter in a battle of the last two unbeaten teams in Class 5A, District 6.
But considering the Red Raiders were ranked 10th in the Associated Press 5A state poll, and had outscored their six previous opponents 287-43, the Leopards seemed like clear underdogs when they arrived at Raider Field.
So when they took a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter, a serious upset was in the works - until South Sumter scored 27 unanswered points en route to a 34-14 victory.
"We got to play two halves. We came out the first half, played a pretty good half," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "And then, we started throwing interceptions, turning the ball over. You can't turn the ball over to a team as good as this down there on that side of the field. It just can't happen."
The Leopards (2-4 overall, 2-1 5A-6) were intercepted on three straight drives in the telltale third quarter, leading to 13 points by the Raiders (7-0 overall, 4-0 5A-6).
It was a remarkably unusual night for the Hernando offense, which came in with 179 rushing attempts for 837 yards compared to 64 passes for 343 yards.
With their running quarterback, senior Ra'shaad Hart, out with an ankle sprain, the Leopards threw the ball 32 times, completing 16 passes for 190 yards.
Meanwhile, they totaled a single yard across 25 carries, thanks largely to a slew of sacks.
"That's how it worked out," Mobley said. "We had to take what they were giving us, and that's what they were giving us, the pass. They were trying to shut the run down, so we passed the ball."
The unconventional attack initially worked out. South Sumter took a 7-0 lead on Levi Sapp's 5-yard touchdown pass to Cody Henderson at the 4:51 mark of the first quarter.
Hernando followed with 12-play, 87-yard drive, in which quarterback Tyler Kline went 7-of-8 passing for 90 yards. He finished it off by finding Ty'Quan Carr down the middle for a diving 18-yard scoring strike with 10:25 to go in the half.
"We've seen them in some four wide," South Sumter head coach Inman Sherman said. "We didn't do a very good job against it, but we weren't really surprised by it. They did a good job. They were real effective with it.
"I think overall, the thing that caused us the most problem was Hernando's front seven. I thought they were very physical up front. Our big tackle is real sore. He was trying to block and they were wearing him out some.
"We got them a little bit tired and were able to cause their offense to make some mistakes, and that gave us a chance to win the game."
With the Raiders punting from their own 10, Justin Roberts blocked a punt that bounded into the end zone. Carr pounced on the ball for his second touchdown and third in two weeks, giving the Leopards a 14-7 lead with 2:09 before halftime.
Hernando attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and recovered it at midfield, but the ball did not go far enough to award them possession.
"It looked like it was good for us," Mobley said. "It was a momentum shift and we thought we had it, then all of sudden they said he touched it too soon."
South Sumter turned that prime field position into a 28-yard touchdown pass from Sapp to J.T. Taylor at 1:23.
Matt Simmons recorded two of the picks that turned the tide for the Raiders in the third. Tafario McKrachon had the other.
Anderson Faulk ran for touchdowns of three and 40 yards in the quarter, and rushed 22 times for 130 yards for the game.
Kicker Wes Moir, perfect on four extra points, added a 35-yard field goal in the third and a 36-yarder on the first play of the fourth.
The Leopards now have critical 5A-6 contests against Pasco and Zephyrhills in the next two weeks that should decide their playoff fate.
"We're still in it, we still can go to the playoffs," Mobley said. "We've just got to win the rest of our games. That's what we're going to let the guys knows. We already told the guys that, but we'll reiterate it on Monday. That's one loss. We've got to keep playing."
South Sumter 34, Hernando 14
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
HER 0 14 0 0 - 14
SS 7 7 17 3 - 34
SS - Henderson 5 pass from Sapp (Moir kick)
HER - Carr 18 pass from Kline (Garcia kick)
HER - Carr recovers blocked punt in end zone (Garcia kick)
SS - Taylor 28 pass from Sapp (Moir kick)
SS - Faulk 3 run (Moir kick)
SS - Moir 35 field goal
SS - Faulk 40 run (Moir kick)
SS - Moir 36 field goal
First Downs 11 10
Atts./Rushing Yds. 25-1 45-182
Passing Yds. 190 110
Total Offense 57-191 60-292
Return Yds. 4-53 6-79
Punts/Avg. 7-37.3 5-28.2
Fumbles/Lost 4-0 1-0
Penalties 11-73 10-72