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Prep Football Preview: Week 4

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Published:   |   Updated: September 20, 2013 at 03:33 PM

Sunlake at Springstead, 7:30 p.m.

By defeating Nature Coast last Friday, 24-7, Springstead (2-1) finally put to bed a seven-game losing skid against its heated county rival.

Riding that wave of emotion, the Eagles enter quite possibly their most important contest of the season.

Not only will tonight's game against Sunlake mark their home opener at Booster Stadium, it begins their Class 6A, District 6 slate.

Springstead is the reigning district champion - though realignment has altered the landscape - and Sunlake (3-0) may be the greatest challenger to that throne.

"I gave the kids the weekend to enjoy the win against Nature Coast, but I told them come ready to win Monday," Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. "It's huge. The winner is not in the driver's seat, but in good position for the district title, and the loser has got some work to do."

In their two meetings with the Seahawks, in their seventh season of existence, the Eagles are 1-1, falling 49-16 in 2011 and winning 13-7 last year.

Since its inception, the Sunlake program has been guided by Bill Browning, Springstead's head coach from 1987-95.

Garofano played for the Eagles during that span, and this will be the first-year headman's initial opportunity to match up with his former mentor as a head coach himself.

"I think it's pretty cool," Garofano said. "I'm not thinking about it much this week. I'll prepare for him like anyone else. But it's a pretty neat thing.

"As far as his influence on me, going into college I wanted to do what he did, and I am, coaching weightlifting and football. So he definitely had an influence on the person I became."

In reality Garofano and his squad have no time for nostalgia. The Seahawks made a major statement out of the gate, stunning Pasco in Week 1, 17-6.

At the time the Pirates were the third-ranked team in 5A, hadn't lost a regular-season game since 2009 and hadn't dropped a county tilt going back to 2007.

Since then Sunlake has blanked River Ridge, 25-0, and Anclote, 15-0.

Junior running back Nathan Johnson has been the offensive leader with 55 carries for 374 yards and three touchdowns, and the team has totaled 539 yards and seven scores on the ground.

The passing game hasn't been nearly as effective. Junior Dayton Feiden and senior Esteban LeWallen have combined to complete just 12-of-35 passes for 212 yards, with three interceptions and zero touchdowns.

Defensively, however, the Seahawks already have 49 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks.

A pair of inside linebackers pace the unit, junior Austin Yeloushan (25 tackles, 10 for a loss, five sacks) and senior Ben Wood (33 tackles, 10 for a loss). Senior defensive lineman Zion Osborn has chipped in 27 tackles and six sacks.

"They're physical, fast, well-coached," Garofano said. "It's a real solid team. We have to come ready to play, buckle up our helmets and match their physicality."

In beating the Sharks the Eagles took significant steps forward following a season-opening blowout loss at Citrus and a sloppy 14-0 victory in the rain at Weeki Wachee.

Quarterback Tyler Mahla rushed for three touchdowns, giving him a county-best six on the year.

"We accomplished a few things," Garofano said. "We've talked about the turnover battle and holding on to the football and finishing drives on offense.

"Defensively we continued to get after it and get better. I said I wanted us to be peaking at district time and hopefully we are."

Springstead will surely need to be clicking, as even at this early stage this figures to be a critical junction.

"This is what we were practicing the first three games for," Garofano said. "Preseason is over. The first round of the playoffs starts this week as far as I'm concerned. These are the money games; that's what we tell the kid. This will be huge."

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.

Hernando at Weeki Wachee, 7:30 p.m.

The county's oldest program meets the newest for the first time ever at the Hornet Nest, each smarting from losses last week as they enter 5A-6 action.

Hernando (0-2) has played better than its record would indicate after tangling with state-ranked Jacksonville-Bolles and almost-ranked Citrus to start off the season.

Thanks to rainouts in the preseason and Week 2, this will be the first time the Leopards play two weeks in a row - weather permitting, of course.

"We just need to get games to play," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "It's the same kids we had against Bolles, but you look at the two games and you wouldn't think we were the same team. We've just got to get our kids to play harder.

"We need to clean up mistakes. Too many turnovers, too many penalties and we can't have that."

Weeki Wachee (1-2) had gotten off to a decent start with a victory at Interlachen (28-6) and a competitive loss to Springstead, then dropped what seemed like a winnable game at Hudson this past Friday, 35-22.

"We've had a better week of practice so far," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "I think the kids understand your play reflects how you practice this week.

"It doesn't matter who you play. If you don't execute, it's awfully tough to be successful. There were a lot of missed tackles, we had five dropped footballs."

This game will pit two distinctly different offensive styles, the Hornets utilizing a more pass-oriented attack while the Leopards do almost all of their damage with the run.

"They're very fast, very physical, strong," Lee said. "Offensively they've got a lot of weapons. Defensively, they will hit you. (Linebacker Jeremiah) Jackson is a tough nut, no doubt about it."

Jackson recorded a stunning 26 tackles against Citrus and has 35 for the season.

As for the Hornets, though junior Marcus Allen is fully back in the fold throwing, running and catching the ball, they've continued to receive balance on that side, with Devon Dupuis, Jon King, Shawn O'Gorman and Dayonta Patterson chipping in regularly to help quarterback David Tinch.

Hernando got a taste of what Weeki Wachee has to offer when they briefly faced at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp over the summer.

"They run a lot of different offenses," Mobley said. "They run an empty backfield; they run a run-and-shoot type. We probably won't play another team that runs as many sets as this team runs.

"We're 0-2. We can't afford to overlook nobody. We're 0-2; we've got to get a win."

The Leopards will be without free safety/running back Mondrell Brown due to an injured ankle. Right tackle Connor Foradas could miss a couple more weeks, according to Mobley, with a knee problem.

Lee reported no major injuries for his group, and looks forward to the start of another budding county rivalry.

"There's big significance," Lee said. "It's a county game. All the county games are important. You've got kids on both teams who know each other. It's important. The kids want it."

Central at Nature Coast, 7:30 p.m.

Another county rivalry with far deeper roots adds a chapter at Shark Tank Stadium, as Nature Coast (0-2) celebrates its homecoming against Central (0-3).

Like Hernando-Weeki Wachee, this one is the 5A-6 opener for both teams.

Adding a dash more spice, each squad is desperately seeking to erase a goose egg in the win column.

Though the Bears initially dominated the series, taking the first four meetings on the field plus a forfeit in 2008, the Sharks have captured the past four clashes.

However Nature Coast, which hasn't finished below .500 since 2005, seems more vulnerable than in recent seasons, and Central more competitive.

"With our struggles I don't think you can take anybody lightly," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "When I watch Central, I watch their offense moving the ball. They turn it over a lot, but they're moving the ball. Defensively we have to be ready to play and make sure we do everything sound.

"Look, they're going to be fired up. If I was them, I'd be saying 'Here we come.' We need to be ready to execute well and get back on track."

Senior defensive end/wide receiver Rohan Blackwood returns from his three-week suspension to make his season debut, though he won't immediately start on defense, Liggett said.

Senior Austin Moore and junior Tyler Eaton, who have filled in, will still see playing time.

"I hope he'll be a big improvement, but he's been out a little bit," Liggett said of Blackwood. "We've had kids step up in his absence and play well and they'll be rewarded."

Sophomore Jamison Carnegie also returns as the starting quarterback, having missed the season opener and come off the bench last week as he recovered from an ankle sprain.

The Sharks hope those additions will help jumpstart on offense that has mustered one touchdown and 283 total yards thus far.

"The kids we have are a great group of kids," Liggett said. "They do everything we ask them to do. They strive to do the best they can. That's what they're working on.

"Right now we have enough things on our own that need to be fixed. For us to be successful, we need to be better at what we do."

Central has surely gotten better; it just hasn't gotten a win to show for it. The Bears blew halftime leads against Hudson and The Villages, and then fell at Poinciana last Friday, 22-8, though they were within one score late.

"Even though we're 0-2, the kids are staying positive," Central head coach Mike Einspahr said. "It's all things we can control. We have to control turnovers. If that happens, it'll put us in a position to be successful."

To that end, the Bears threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles versus Poinciana.

Those miscues undermined a defense that allowed just two first downs, and another solid night for running back Robbie Bradley, who has now rushed for 484 yards and three touchdowns.

"The kids have bought in to what we're doing," Einspahr said. "The kids believe in each other. Instead of 25 mistakes, we're down to five. Those five are pretty costly right now.

"He's (Bradley) just playing. He has a great attitude. He shows up every day and works hard.

"Maybe being a year older and having that faith (has helped Bradley emerge). He's got a really good offensive line protecting him right now."

Einspahr hasn't had to worry about the guy carrying the ball, and he shouldn't have any trouble getting his players ready for this one.

"The kids are fired up enough," Einspahr said. "We don't have to get the kids up for Nature Coast. Our job is to make sure they're prepared to line up in the right scheme and prepared to play football."

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

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