CRYSTAL RIVER - For the Nature Coast Sharks, they had to put a nightmare preseason game against Citrus behind them to have a chance to knock off the sharp Crystal River Pirates on the road.
Without defensive end Rohan Blackwood (suspended three weeks), the Sharks' defense managed to cause havoc for the Pirates, but untimely penalties and turnovers would ultimately be the Sharks' undoing, as they fell to the host Pirates 14-8 Friday night.
The stat sheet may show the Sharks outgained the Pirates in total yards, 180-94, but it was the costly turnovers and penalties that had Nature Coast feeling like it took one step forward and two steps back every drive down the field.
"We are young," Sharks head coach Charles Liggett said. "We are basically brand new on the offensive line and it will take time to grow. "
While holes were hard to find for the running backs, DeShawn Smith managed to gain 89 yards on 19 carries and the Sharks' backfield as a whole gained 172 yards on the ground in large part to poor tackling by the Pirate defense.
The Pirates jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, after a duo of questionable officiating calls. The first was a pass interference call on third down, while it was clear the Sharks' cornerback deflected the ball without touching the receiver. This gave the Pirates new life that they would capitalize on.
The second came when quarterback Collen Ryan seemed to get stuffed for no gain on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The umpire, however, signaled touchdown while the side judges stood without a call.
Following a bad snap on the punt which the Sharks would recover, Ryan was back at it this time hitting his wideout and Pirate playmaker Ty Reynolds for a 13-yard score. Reynolds then would throw the two-point conversion attempt to Al Ellison to give the Pirates a quick 14-0 lead.
The Sharks wouldn't go down that easy, however, as Smith would take the ensuing kickoff 94 yards untouched to the end zone to cut the lead to 14-6.
The defense, which was torched last week, came up huge for the Sharks all night, allowing only 18 yards of total offense in the second half.
They also forced Ryan to throw away a pass in his own end zone resulting in an intentional grounding penalty, which counts as a safety.
"The defense grew up from last week." Liggett said. "They came up big in the second half for us."
Despite the defense's best effort, the Sharks' last drive would come up short, allowing the Pirates to take over on downs and kneel out the remaining 1:14.
Liggett expects the team to respond as it has a bye week then plays host to county rival Springstead the following Friday.
"Our line is young." Liggett said. "We will get better as the year goes on."
Crystal River 14, Nature Coast 8
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
NCT 0 8 0 0 - 8
CR 0 14 0 0 - 14
CR - Ryan 1 run (Kick no good)
CR - Reynolds 13 pass from Ryan (Ellison pass from Reynolds)
NCT - Smith 94 kickoff return (Two-point failed)
NCT - Safety (Intentional grounding in end zone)
First Downs 9 5
Att/Rush Yds 41-172 29-42
Com/Pass Att/INT 4-12-1 5-13-0
Passing Yards 8 52
Total Offense 53-180 42-94
Return Yds 134 27
Punts/Avg 4-19.8 5-26.2
Fumbles/Lost 3-1 2-1
Penalties 6-53 6-40