Citrus at Springstead, 7:30 p.m.
When Springstead and Citrus met in Inverness in last year’s season opener, no one could have predicted what would happen in the end.
Even the Eagles’ head coach, Mike Garofano, admits he never imagined his team would reel off 11 straight victories after getting crushed by the Hurricanes, 42-14.
The two teams met again at Springstead in the first round of the playoffs, with a much different outcome as the won Eagles, 21-6.
So when these squads clash once more at Booster Stadium tonight, they’ll renew something of a budding rivalry.
“When you play each other three times in a one-year span, that can create some tension,” Garofano said. “They’ve got some rowdy characters, to say the least, that are passionate about the sport.
“I think a little rivalry has been developed. We know they’ve been chomping at the bit to play us. They’re calling us out. We’ll be ready.”
The Eagles looked ready last Thursday when they dominated Hudson in a preseason game shortened to one half due to lightning, 20-0.
“I’m happy with the way the defense played,” Garofano said. “Offensively, we just need to eliminate mistakes and not turn the ball over.”
Citrus, which lost head coach Rayburn Greene to Seven Rivers Christian in the offseason, certainly did not appear as sharp falling at Nature Coast last Friday, 23-6.
His team having played the night before, Garofano was able to witness the ‘Canes fall to the Sharks in person.
“Citrus has some talent,” said Garofano, pointing to senior brothers Desmond and Sam Franklin as well as senior John Bronson. “I was impressed with them. I think they just ran out of steam against Nature Coast.
“They have speed and athleticism to match what they had last year and they’re physical.”
Desmond Franklin, now playing quarterback, and Sam Franklin, a wide receiver, also play in the secondary, while Bronson is both a linebacker and running back.
Garofano believes those three playing both ways may have contributed to the loss against the Sharks.
Still, he can recall how things went down a year ago at this time, and doesn’t want to see a repeat performance, when the Eagles committed uncharacteristic turnovers and mistakes that made for a lopsided score.
“We really weren’t ready Week 1 last year like we thought we were,” Garofano said. “They brought that intensity and we didn’t. We matched it the second game. We need to do the same thing this time.
Crystal River at Nature Coast, 7:30 p.m.
Having dispatched of Citrus, Nature Coast gets its season officially underway against another Citrus County opponent by hosting Crystal River.
Taking down the ‘Canes was certainly a positive step forward for first-year head coach Justin Worden, especially considering Citrus thumped the Sharks last preseason, 47-7.
“I’m trying to downplay that as much as possible. I don’t want to put too much stock on preseason,” Worden said. “Still, it’s got to give us a mental boost.
“We’ve got some kids who can run the ball. The quarterback (Jamison Carnegie) does a heck of a job bailing us out of bad situations. Offensively, we didn’t hurt ourselves too much with the exception of penalties. I think that’s getting a comfort level with the offense a little more.”
Nature Coast amassed 415 yards of total offense while limiting Citrus to 139, and rebounded from allowing a touchdown on the opening drive of the game.
DeShawn Smith ran for 86 yards and a score, while Jermaine Green rushed for 83 yards and twice found the end zone. Carnegie went 8-of-12 passing for 157 yards.
The Pirates went 3-7 a year ago, yet did manage to beat Nature Coast in the season opener, 14-8.
“I think we can get some things, spread them out a little bit and give them something different,” Worden said. “Skill kid-wise, if we can get out in space we can use our speed.”
As he attempts to rebuild the Sharks, Worden realize the value of capitalizing on last week’s triumph.
“It’s paramount,” Worden said. “From one standpoint, it’s my first year. We want to get things rolling. The buy-in is a lot easier to come by when you say ‘Hey, this is what we’re capable of,’ and then show them what we’re capable of.
“We play Springstead in two weeks. That’s our rival. If we can be rolling heading into that game, that’ll be great.”
Central at Hudson, 7:30 p.m.
Ever since his hiring at Central, new head coach Chris Sands has exuded an optimism that belies the struggling program he inherited.
Perhaps the Bears began to prove him correct when they defeated Williston a week ago, 14-9, providing some rare positive vibes heading into the season opener at Hudson.
“These kids came in eager to win and we talked about it all throughout the offseason,” Sands said. “These kids are really excited to keep the momentum going.
“I see the growth in these kids with each other. They really grasp the concept of being a team. Offense, defense, special teams, that comes, but the team camaraderie is something that I think will make us special this year.”
The degree of difficulty could increase this week against a Cobra squad that went 6-5 and advanced to the playoffs in 2013. Sands took in Hudson’s game against Springstead last week.
“We know they’re big up front,” Sands said. “They’ve got a couple of big linemen that’ll probably play college ball. The quarterback is really tough. If we don’t let those guys take over the game, we’ll be in for a big night.
“I think we match up well. Offensively, hopefully we’ll be explosive and the way the defense played last Friday, if we play like that we’ll be in good shape.”
Central has felt the bitter sting of defeat at the end of each of its past 18 regular-season games dating back to Sept. 7, 2012, a 28-17 win at Wildwood, though it did have a loss to Poinciana last year reversed due to forfeit.
That puts a paramount on maintaining the feeling achieved last week as Sands attempts to get his players and everyone around the program to buy in.
“It’s huge, especially playing a playoff team, a team that they lost to last year, a well-coached team, to keep the positive vibe going,” Sands said, “These kids have really worked hard. They deserve a win and to get one in the regular season would be great for these kids.”
Hernando at Jacksonville-Bolles, 7:30 p.m.
No one can accuse Hernando of easing into its first year under head coach Bill Vonada.
The first of two consecutive trips to the Jacksonville area brings a matchup with one of the state’s long-standing powerhouses, The Bolles School.
The Bulldogs are ranked third in Class 4A to open the season and are considered state title contenders after back-to-back state runner-up finishes.
That followed up a state championship in 2011, their 11th overall and 10th under longtime headman Corky Rogers.
Bolles did not play a preseason classic, making scouting even more of a challenge for the Hernando staff. Last year in Week 1, the Bulldogs won 35-22 at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium.
“We know they’re going to be great,” Vonada said. “The information we have is they’re very talented, they’re very well-coached. Corky Rogers has coached there for a long time.
“We expect that we’re going to have to play our ‘A’ game and then see what happens.”
That wasn’t quite the case last Friday when host River Ridge rallied for a 37-32 triumph. On the plus side for Hernando, senior D’Angelo Fagin scored four touchdowns.
“We certainly saw some good things; we saw some things that were vastly improved from the spring,” Vonada said. “Played tight with a tough River Ridge team but there were certainly a lot of mistakes that we need to correct. There were a few assignment mistakes offensively. We kind of lost our drive a little bit at one point and I think it was really more of a focus thing.
“Defensively, we had some assignment breakdowns. Not to take anything away from River Ridge. And then just some penalties that really hurt us.”
As for dealing with the long trip, Vonada credited the booster club for providing a charter bus.
“We’re just doing the best we can to try and keep our guys comfortable, get their heads in the game,” Vonada said. “Trying to do the best we can to keep your kids’ minds focused on the right things.”
Interlachen at Weeki Wachee, 7:30 p.m.
For the past two seasons, Weeki Wachee has had to drive two hours to take on Interlachen, though the trip has proved worthwhile thanks to two victories.
This time, the Rams will make the lengthy trip to take on a Hornet team hoping to shake off a 14-12 preseason loss to Lecanto last Friday.
“Friday was a great learning experience,” Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. “Defensively we played a lot better than what we did last year. We gave up two big plays on defense; that was it.
“Offensively, we watched film, saw a lot of stupid mistakes, critical errors. We didn’t take advantage of opportunities the offense was given.”
Lee has repeatedly stressed that his team will no longer accept moral victories in its third varsity season and believes his seniors are motivated enough to push for better than the 3-7 records the Hornets have posted their first two seasons.
He isn’t downplaying Interlachen, either, despite Weeki Wachee’s success in this series and the Rams’ 1-9 mark last year.
“They’ve got some skill guys,” Lee said. “They’ve got some speed team. They can surprise a lot of people with their ability. We’ve got to be able to control what we can control. Take care of the football, not make mistakes, play solid defense. That’s a blueprint for any successful team.”
This will be Military Night at the Hornets Nest. Anyone with a military ID will be admitted free. There will also be activities designed to collect donations, and a portion of the concession proceeds will go to the Wounded Warriors Project.