Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Sports

Prep Football Preview: Week 11

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Hernando at Springstead, 7:30 p.m.

For at least this week, Springstead can rest easy with another Class 6A, District 6 championship in hand.

The Eagles (8-1) will host Citrus in a regional quarterfinal next Friday. That much is set in stone.

Meanwhile, the other four Hernando County teams are either already done or wrapping things up.

There's just one loose end left to tie up before the proverbial bow is attached to the regular season: the county championship.

When Hernando (3-6) arrives at Booster Stadium tonight, it'll do so having already defeated Weeki Wachee, Nature Coast and Central this year.

Likewise, the Eagles have posted a 3-0 mark against those three opponents. Thus, tonight's winner walks away with an undisputed county crown.

"The guys know this is the last thing that we can play for," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "This is the end of the year, the last game of the season, and we've got to go out there and lay everything on the line.

"It doesn't really erase anything. We had the playoffs in our hands and we let it slip away. But we've still got an opportunity to be county champions. At least the seniors can leave saying 'We were county champs.'"

That's the fire that will fuel the visiting Leopards. For the hosts, it's a bit more complicated.

Considering what the Eagles have already achieved, and what remains on the horizon, it's worth wondering how much this game truly means to them.

"We're excited. We're happy," Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said of the district title. "But the season is not over. We went back to work Monday morning.

"It's a game (against Hernando). It doesn't have any playoff implications, but the county championship is always a goal going into the season. It's a game you want to win and we'll play to win.

"We'll play all of our guys to win the game. There's no resting people for next week."

Injuries, though, could force some players to sit out. Junior inside linebacker Connor Ross, the team's leading tackler, hurt his knee a week ago against Land O' Lakes, and remains questionable.

Another defensive starter, junior cornerback Brian Rae, might be sidelined as he recovers from a rib issue.

Hernando has its own health problems. Senior linebacker Hunter Maclachlan may miss his second straight game with a pectoral injury. Senior running back Mondrell Brown is a question mark due to a sore ankle.

The Leopards figure to need all hands on deck to handle a Springstead squad that's rolling, winning eight in a row and outscoring teams 173-45 the past five contests. The Eagles have scored no fewer than 30 points over that span.

While Hernando has generally hung tough defensively, its inability to move the ball and penchant for turnovers doesn't bode well against the suffocating Springstead defense.

Even in last week's 35-6 triumph over Central, three of the Leopards' touchdowns were scored by the special teams or defense.

"We've got to catch the ball," Mobley said. "The last two games we've had at least 6-7 drops.

"We easily could have had 200 yards passing against Central. We easily could have had 200 yards passing against Zephyrhills (two weeks ago). But our guys are dropping balls right in their hands.

"Our guys have got to start concentrating and taking care of the little things, and come out and play."

The Eagles have had no such concerns. They have continued with the crisp, disciplined, methodical style of play established under previous head coach Bill Vonada.

Quarterback Tyler Mahla has been spectacular, particularly on the ground executing the triple option. He's just shy of 1,000 yards rushing and has already punched in a school-record 15 touchdowns.

On paper, the matchup appears heavily in Springstead's favor. However, the Eagles were 9-0 with a district title secured last year and dropped their regular-season finale against Nature Coast.

That loss only cost them an outright county championship, yet Garofano noted that his squad hasn't forgotten that experience, and isn't overlooking the Leopards.

"Big, fast and physical," Garofano said in describing Hernando. "It's going to be tough. They're battle-tested. They're 3-6, but they've played a tougher schedule than any other team on our schedule.

"We're trying to end the season on a high note and continue to be peaking going into the playoffs. And try to stay healthy."

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.

Ocala-Lake Weir at Nature Coast, 7:30 p.m.

Nature Coast (3-6) hosts struggling Lake Weir (1-7-1) in a game that on the surface seems like two teams playing out the schedule.

The Sharks, though, aren't taking that approach. According to head coach Charles Liggett, the focus remains on finishing up in a positive direction.

"The kids know it's the end, the last week," Liggett said. "The seniors are starting to get nostalgic and realize this is it. All the kids at practice are doing what we ask them to do.

"The seniors want to win one more game. It's important. Right now with the way things are, four wins is four more than zero."

A week ago, Nature Coast finally snapped a four-game skid with a victory at Weeki Wachee, 19-12.

Now the Sharks face a Hurricanes club that has scored a grand total of 83 points on the season. That includes a 7-7 tie against Deltona in a September game called in the fourth quarter due to a thunderstorm.

Since notching its lone win against Tavares, 15-14 on Sept. 27, Lake Weir has lost four in a row by a combined 117-35.

For comparison's sake, the 'Canes fell to Ocala-Forest on Oct. 18, 36-7. The next week, Forest needed a furious comeback, a last-minute touchdown and some allegedly friendly officiating to upend Nature Coast, 21-20.

Liggett, in scouting the 'Canes, said they are schematically similar to Weeki Wachee on offense, so he anticipates employing a similar defensive game plan.

"If we can prevent them from getting the big play, I think we'll do pretty well defensively," Liggett said. "I think we've got a good chance. I think our defense can corral them. Our offense should be able to move the ball on them."

Ideally, Liggett would like to see his outgoing seniors enjoy their final time on the field. One of them won't get a chance to play; tight end/long snapper Ryan Roscillo is on the shelf with an injured knee.

Overall, Liggett would like to see the Sharks go out with a well-played, well-executed performance to put an exclamation point on an otherwise difficult campaign.

"Friday night is our season," Liggett said. "A fun win for the guys would help erase a lot of the negatives.

"Our biggest game of the year was Pasco (29-28 win on Sept. 27). But it was nowhere near our best game. We certainly can go out Friday night and have our best game yet. Go mistake-free and have something to look back on and say 'That was awesome.'"

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

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