Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
Sports

Prep Football Preview: Week 10

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Springstead at Land O' Lakes, 7:30 p.m.

All season long, Springstead head coach Mike Garofano has talked about money games, referencing the critical district tilts that would determine the Eagles' fate.

Tonight, Springstead hopes to cash in during the biggest Class 6A, District 6 matchup of the season, when it travels to Land O' Lakes.

With a win, the Eagles (7-1 overall, 3-0 6A-6) repeat as district champion, becoming the first team in county history to do so.

But the Gators (7-1 overall, 2-1 6A-6) still have something to say about that, needing a win to stay alive in the postseason race and potentially force a three-way tie atop 6A-6.

Assuming Sunlake gets past Fivay tonight, a Land O' Lakes win would mean the Gators, Seahawks and Eagles would meet Monday in a tiebreaker for two playoff spots.

Considering Springstead needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Sunlake, and the Seahawks in turn required overtime to down Land O' Lakes, such a scenario would be precarious for all three squads.

"This is what you play for all year, an opportunity like this," Garofano said. "We've got to try to make the most of it.

"We don't want it to come down to a three-team playoff on Monday. We want to win the district outright. Let's do it the easy way, let's win Friday."

But it won't be that easy to take down the Gators. Springstead did win last year at The Swamp, 20-7, yet still trails in the all-time series, 15-13.

On the field the Eagles had dropped 10 of their prior 11 meetings with Land O' Lakes dating back to 1997, though games in 2010 and 2011 were eventually forfeited by the Gators.

Coming off a rare losing season, 4-6 in 2012, and two straight non-playoff years, Land O' Lakes has returned to form, led by junior quarterback James Pensyl.

The Gator signal caller has completed 128-of-225 passes for 1,754 yards, tossing 16 touchdowns against just one interception.

Compare that Springstead senior quarterback Tyler Mahla, who has done much of his damage on the ground. He has rushed for 924 yards and 14 scores.

That tells the story of two very contrasting offenses, though both have been considerably effective. The Gators are averaging 30.8 points per game; the Eagles are at 25.6.

On the other hand, both defenses have been particularly stingy, permitting less than two touchdowns per contest.

"They're really good in all phases of the game," Garofano said of Land O' Lakes. "They've got a solid defense; aggressive, physical, athletic.

"Offensively, they've got a guy who can run the ball, 4-5 guys who can catch it and a great quarterback. They're a real quality opponent. They present a challenge for us."

No one has pushed the Eagles in a while. Despite yielding 42 points in a season-opening loss at Citrus, they have given up a total of 86, and only six across three October games.

Meanwhile, Springstead has put at least 30 points up on the scoreboard in each of its past four times out.

Yet Garofano isn't taking the recent hot streak for granted. The keys to victory remain consistent: "Defensively, fly around the football, create turnovers and not give up the big play.

"Offensively, protect the football, secure the football and drive down the field."

As simple as it sounds, there's no talking down the significance of what the Eagles could accomplish with a victory.

"It'd be a great legacy for our seniors to leave behind," Garofano said. "It'd be great for the school, the community, everybody.

"We're not putting too much pressure on the guys. It's a big game, it'll be a big-game atmosphere. We'll go about it like it's just another game and try to come out on top."

This game will be carried live on WWJB 1450 AM and 103.9 FM, and streamed live at wwjb.com, beginning with the pregame show at 6:45 p.m.

Nature Coast at Weeki Wachee, 7:30 p.m.

Mark Lee admits he's been asked the questioned a few times, but he wants no part of any sort of soap-opera storyline this week.

Yes, the Weeki Wachee headman served in that capacity at Nature Coast in 2009, then wasn't retained despite guiding the Sharks to a 7-4 record and a playoff berth.

That led him to the Hornets, and he has spent the past four years serving as athletic director while building up the school's newborn football program.

This marks the first time Weeki Wachee (3-6 overall, 1-4 5A-6) and Nature Coast (2-6 overall, 2-3 5A-6) will face on the varsity level.

"To me, that stuff is water under the bridge," Lee said. "In this business that stuff happens and you go on, and prepare for what's scheduled. We happen to be playing Nature Coast this week and I happened to have coached there.

"A lot of people ask me if I hold any grudge. That was five years ago. A lot has happened since that took place."

More important for both teams is to end this season on the right foot. For the Hornets, this is the final game on the slate.

"This is the last game for our seniors, and some of those seniors playing in their last game have been here from the get-go," Lee said. "This is the first class we're graduating that's been here all four years.

"I want them to play intense. I want them to play relentlessly. This is the last time on the field for many of them. I want them to leave it all out on the field and have no regrets."

Who will play quarterback remains a question for Weeki Wachee. Junior Marcus Allen sat out last week due to a coach's decision, and Lee would only say his status for this one is "to be determined."

That could mean senior David Tinch, the original starter before suffering a shoulder injury, will take the snaps once again.

Perhaps of greater concern could be the Hornets' trouble stopping the run. The Sharks rely heavily on their ground attack, and sophomore DeShawn Smith (581 yards, eight touchdowns) has shown big-play capability.

Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett doesn't believe his team will have a hangover from last week's stunning - and controversial - 21-20 loss at Ocala-Forest.

Some critical officiating decisions left the Sharks feeling cheated in Marion County, as the Wildcats rallied from a 17-2 deficit and went ahead in the final minute.

"The bottom line is they won, so we have to be focused and shoot to win two games at the end of the year," Liggett said. "I'm trying to put a lot of focus on winning the last two games for the seniors and the school and for ourselves, as well."

Liggett noted that Nature Coast has suffered three injuries along its offensive line. Right guard Austin Wilkerson was already down with a broken arm from two weeks ago, and now center Nick Vogel is out with a dislocated shoulder coming out of the Forest game.

Also, left tackle Christian Pellage is a game-time decision due to a back issue.

The coach additionally pointed out that Weeki Wachee has a chance to end its season having improved upon a 3-7 first varsity run last year.

"I tried to make sure my kids understand, this is their last game of the year," Liggett said. "They'll have all the festivities for Senior Night. They want to win. I guarantee those kid over there are very focused and ready to win that football game. If they win on Friday night, they've got a lot show.

"We've had a lot of success, but we've struggled this year. A 4-6 season is not going to feel good, but it's better than 2-8."

Central at Hernando, 7:30 p.m.

Having been eliminated from postseason contention with last week's 32-14 loss at Zephyrhills, Hernando (2-6 overall, 2-3 5A-6) must now realign its goals as it finishes out the schedule.

"We feel like we let one get away, which we did," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "We're trying to work on the little things, because the little things are what really win football games.

"We're concentrating on the county championship now. We've beat two of the four teams (Weeki Wachee and Nature Coast). We've got two more teams to beat to become county champions. That's what we're working toward."

It'll start against Central (0-9 overall, 0-5 5A-6), playing its final game of another difficult season.

The Leopards have health issues at quarterback. Senior Ra'shaad Hart nearly rallied the Leopards last Friday, but is still nursing a sprained ankle.

Nevertheless, he figures to start with Tyler Kline missing practice this week due to a problematic back muscle. Another signal caller, John Coleman, is questionable, though Mobley was unsure of the exact nature of Coleman's injury.

For the Bears, running back Robbie Bradley, the county's leading rusher with over 1,000 yards, saw limited action this past Friday at Pasco.

Central head coach Mike Einspahr said the senior was simply dinged up, and is good to go against the Leopards.

With that type of threat in the backfield, and considering Hernando's situation, Mobley doesn't anticipate a letdown.

"I don't have to worry about overlooking nobody," Mobley said. "Yes, Central hasn't won a game, but it validates their year if they beat Hernando. We're not looking past nobody. We can't afford to look past anybody."

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

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