Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
Sports

Prep Football Previews: Week 8

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Pasco at Hernando, 7:30 p.m.

For decades, Hernando and Pasco have battled it out on the football field, building a rivalry that spans generations in Brooksville and Dade City.

But as the area's population has exploded and the number of schools increased exponentially, it's debatable whether the rivalry is rooted more in nostalgia than reality.

In fact, over the past four years these teams have met exclusively in the preseason. They haven't had an official clash since 2008.

Tonight's contest at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium is no exhibition. In fact, it's the first time in 11 years that the Leopards (2-4 overall, 2-1 5A-6) and Pirates (3-3 overall, 1-2 5A-6) will face as district foes.

They are both trying to come out on top of the logjam that has become Class 5A, District 6 behind unbeaten South Sumter.

In other words, they're playing their first game with playoff implications in over a decade - and just maybe, the rivalry will return in full force.

"I'm glad it's back," said Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley, who suited up for the Leopards during some heated tilts against Pasco in the early '90s. "They were a rival when I was playing and those games meant something.

"When it got to the point where the games didn't mean anything, yeah we were playing but who cares if we'd win or lose? Now the game is still there and it really means something."

Hernando leads the all-time series, dating back to 1925, 35-24-1, but hasn't technically defeated the Pirates since 1999.

The Leopards did finally score a 21-7 triumph last year to at least overcome the mental block of besting Pasco.

"We beat Pasco, but that game meant more to us than it did to them," Mobley said. "The team I had never had beat Pasco. Our guys thought, 'Hey, we just beat Pasco.'"

In has been uncharacteristic campaign for the Pirates, who have been rebuilt into a state power under head coach Tom McHugh.

They already have more losses than any season going back to 2007, McHugh's first at the helm. They hadn't lost at all the past three regular seasons.

When Nature Coast pulled off a stunning 19-point comeback in Dade City three weeks ago, handing Pasco a 29-28 defeat, it changed the entire landscape of the district.

The Pirates went down against South Sumter the following Friday, 38-14. Hernando similarly fell to the Red Raiders a week ago, 34-14.

Pasco also lost sophomore wide receiver Nate Craig, already a Division I prospect, to a severe ankle sprain.

That didn't stop the Pirates from rolling through Weeki Wachee last Friday, 46-7, behind running back Malik Johns' 199 yards and four touchdowns.

However, Hernando has hung tough defensively through a schedule that has featured four opponents that have spent time in the state rankings.

"We just need to play sound football, and what we need to do not just this game but throughout is force the teams to run the length of the field, and we should be OK," Mobley said.

Mobile quarterback Ra'shaad Hart will be a game-time decision as he nurses an ankle sprain that held him out at South Sumter.

Without Hart, the Leopards ran for minus-2 yards on 28 carries, and threw 32 times in falling to the Raiders. Junior Tyler Kline took the majority of the snaps, going 13-of-30 for 168 yards with a touchdown against two interceptions.

Fellow junior John Coleman also figures to see time under center.

"We'll be giving the running backs the ball a little more, and with (Hart) in there it's just that added dimension," Mobley said. "Our other two quarterbacks can run the ball, but they don't run it like Ra'shaad runs it."

Cornerback Bryce Mobley practiced this week after sitting out since the season opener with a fractured foot, and fullback Brad Ellis returned from a leg injury that has kept him on the shelf for three games.

With Zephyrhills also sitting at one district loss (to South Sumter), both the Leopards and Pirates need a victory remain in control of their own destinies.

"It's Hernando-Pasco," Mobley said. "I expect a big crowd. A lot of people still remember the big rivalry we've had, so I'm thinking they'll come out and watch the game."

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.

South Sumter at Nature Coast, 7:30 p.m.

By losing to Hernando and Zephyrhills over the past two weeks, Nature Coast (2-4 overall, 2-2 5A-6) put itself in a considerable hole.

While two district losses isn't a death sentence, unlike Hernando, Pasco and Zephyrhills, the Sharks still have to face South Sumter (7-0 overall, 4-0 5A-6).

The Raiders moved up a spot to ninth in this week's Associated Press 5A state poll, and have outscored their opponents by a combined 321-57.

"On both sides of the ball we need to play mistake-free and be at our best to hang in there with them," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "If we do things right against South Sumter, we'll be able to hang in there with them and give them a fight.

"I see a good football team (in the Raiders). They've got some size, some speed, some talent, and they're very, very, very well-coached. They're very methodical and solid at what they do. They're not going to make a mistake. You've got to stand your ground.

"A lot of teams in our district have stood toe-to-toe with them for a while, and then they methodically pull away."

That's exactly what happened to Hernando last week. The Leopards held a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter before South Sumter reeled off 27 unanswered points.

So the Sharks clearly face a daunting task, and they'll have go without defensive end Bryant Warkentine, who aggravated an arm injury in a car accident this week.

Conversely, tight end Ryan Roscillo is back from a two-game absence recovering from a concussion.

While Nature Coast's playoff hopes have taken a significant hit, Liggett noted there's still the goal of avoiding the program's first losing season since 2005.

"The season itself is not a loss," Liggett said. "My message to the kids this week was basically to keep the faith and remember the season still has a lot of promise left. We still have a lot to accomplish individually and team-wise."

The Sharks need look no further than their triumph over Pasco for proof that anything can happen.

"When we went into Pasco, it was no different than South Sumter coming in here," Liggett said. "If our kids stand tall and try to execute the game plan, we'll see what happens.

"There's no reason we can't pull off another shocker. What do we have to lose?"

Orlando-Colonial at Weeki Wachee (Homecoming), 7:30 p.m.

During the first homecoming in the school's brief history that will welcome back a graduating class, Weeki Wachee (2-5) will go a little out of its weight class.

Colonial (2-4), an 8A school, visits the Hornets Nest tonight, though Weeki Wachee head Mark Lee said he doesn't concern himself with enrollment size.

Instead the Hornets are focused on stabilizing what has been an erratic second varsity campaign, and bouncing back from a tough loss to Pasco.

"One of the biggest problems was we couldn't stop the bleeding," Lee said. "We gave up big plays in a very short amount of time. You can't do that against good teams. We've got to do a much better job of executing."

Weeki Wachee has struggled mightily to stop the run all season, but it might receive a break against the Grenadiers.

"Defensively they run a 4-4. They're fast. They've got a couple of big boys up front and they're pretty physical," Lee said. "Offensively, they'll spread you out. This is the first time we've faced a team that's pretty pass heavy."

Colonial, under a new head coach for the second year in a row, has posted six straight losing seasons, going 1-9 in 2012.

As for the Hornets, there could be a shift under center. Marcus Allen has filled in for David Tinch, who has been dealing with an injured shoulder.

Lee indicated that Tinch could finally begin taking snaps once again, or JV quarterback Alec Cromie, just called up to varsity, might get the nod.

"We've got three games left and we need to end on a strong note," Lee said. "Our seniors started football at Weeki Wachee. They want to go out strong.

"We need to go out and try to have fun, have success and build on our program."

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

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