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Prep Football Previews: Week 9

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Published:   |   Updated: November 1, 2013 at 03:48 PM

Hernando at Zephyrhills, 7:30 p.m.

Following last week's heartbreaking 7-0 loss to Pasco, Hernando officially has its back against the proverbial wall.

It's very simple for the Leopards (2-5) when they travel to Zephyrhills (6-1) tonight: win or else.

"We've got to win this game," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "If we win this game, we still need help to make it into the playoffs. We just need to win the rest of our games. We need to play hard and leave everything out on the field."

Even at 2-2 in Class 5A, District 6, Hernando still has a legitimate shot at securing its fourth straight playoff berth.

First the Leopards absolutely must defeat the Bulldogs - a loss would mathematically eliminate Hernando from postseason contention.

Then the Leopards will have to take care of business against Central next while holding their breath that Zephyrhills, currently 3-1 in 5A-6, can knock off Pasco (2-2 5A-6) in the "9-Mile War."

If all that were to happen, it would give Hernando the district runner-up spot.

Less likely, Pasco could fall to Central tonight while Hernando wins its remaining 5A-6 tilts, also allowing the Leopards to clinch a playoff spot outright.

For now, Hernando has to focus on figuring out a way to solve the exceptionally speedy Bulldogs.

Since suffering its only loss at South Sumter on Sept. 20, 38-15, Zephyrhills has been an offensive juggernaut, averaging 49.7 points per game.

Of course that came against the bottom three teams in the district standings, Weeki Wachee, Nature Coast and Central.

The Leopards have certainly proven they can contain high-octane opponents defensively, especially if they can avoid costly turnovers that shorten the field.

Pasco came into last week averaging 34.6 points over its previous five games, yet could only muster 173 yards of total offense and one scoring drive.

Problem was Hernando managed 63 yards a week after South Sumter held it to minus-2 rushing.

The offensive woes have been exacerbated by the absence of mobile quarterback Ra'shaad Hart. Due to a severe ankle sprain, the senior sat out completely against South Sumter and didn't make an appearance until the final drive versus Pasco.

Mobley said Hart has been practicing this week and characterized him as day-to-day. He won't start, Mobley added, but is expected to see plenty of action.

"It's impacted us a little bit," Mobley said of not having Hart. "But we've got to get the blocks. We can't afford to have almost every series one guy missing a block.

"One guy misses a block every series, that's a guy coming free every series. It's hard to get yards that way."

The Leopards may need all units to put forth their best performance in order to stay alive in the district race.

"We need to stay calm and be patient," Mobley said. "We need good routes, we need to catch the ball, run through the right holes, block good, play defense like we've been playing and we should have no problem. Everything hopefully works in our favor."

Mitchell at Springstead, 7:30 p.m.

While Springstead enjoyed a bye last week, its path to a repeat district championship became a bit clearer.

Land O' Lakes suffered an overtime loss to Sunlake, leaving the Eagles (6-1) as the last undefeated team in 6A-6 at 2-0.

Springstead approaches the finish line over the next two games, first by hosting Mitchell (5-3 overall, 1-2 6A-6) before traveling to play the Gators next Friday.

With a win combined with a Land O' Lakes' loss to Fivay tonight, the Eagles would clinch the 6A-6 crown.

"We control our own destiny. We're the only team in our district that can do that," Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. "We've got two money games left."

The Mustangs, much like the Eagles, have traditionally relied on their ground game, and this season is no different. They come in having rushed for 1,325 yards and 21 touchdowns.

However, they lost their top running back, senior Christian Trinidad (440 yards, seven touchdowns), after he quit the team earlier this month.

Without him the past two games they've managed wins over Lecanto (29-25) and Fivay (34-10).

Garofano pointed out that Mitchell has additionally thrown the ball more than in years past, totaling 859 yards and three scores through the air, though also tossing 10 picks.

"They have the capability (to throw)," Garofano said. "That makes them tougher to defend.

"I do expect a quick game, a pretty clean game as far as penalties. Both of us hold onto the ball pretty well. I expect both teams to move the chains and keep the clock running."

Still, at this point the Mustangs are a longshot to advance to the playoffs, while the looming contest versus the Gators could make or break the Eagles' season.

Garofano insisted his squad wouldn't look beyond the task at hand.

"There's a tendency to want to do that. But you can't," Garofano said. "I wouldn't know how to do that. I can only prepare for one team at a time. I take it one game at a time and so does our team."

The bye allowed the Eagles to rest and reset, though they didn't exactly need the break. They were already generally healthy and winners of six straight.

"We want to keep this thing going," Garofano said. "We've been on a roll the last few weeks and we don't want it to stop. I'm anxious to get back at it and I think the kids are, too."

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 Ocala-Forest, 7:30 p.m.

Since pulling off a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Pasco, Nature Coast has had a rough go in dropping three in a row.

The Sharks (2-5) are virtually out of the playoff picture - they could become entangled in a complicated four-way tie - as they head into a non-district matchup.

"There's no real change as far as spirits," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "The kids are hanging in there, planning for another game.

"They want to win a game. They know they're not playing well. They know we've got to fix some things. They're inexperienced and it's showing a lot lately."

On paper Forest (2-5) appears in the same boat, though Liggett was impressed with what he saw on film.

"They're big up front, they've got speed," Liggett said. "They're running a similar offensive scheme to what we've gone against the last two weeks, and we've had trouble the last two weeks.

"They're 2-5, we're 2-5. If they were as good as South Sumter or Zephyrhills they wouldn't be 2-5. But we have to stand our ground. We'll have a test."

In consecutive losses to Zephyrhills and South Sumter, the Sharks have given up a combined 88 points. They had permitted a total of 86 over their first five games.

One possible reason, they have essentially missed defensive end Bryant Warkentine the last two weeks due to an arm injury further aggravated by a car accident last week.

He'll return to the lineup today, and Liggett believes Warkentine's presence could make a big difference.

The coach also indicated there could be some defensive personnel changes.

The goal of having a winning season remains achievable, and not facing a must-win situation could prove a mental breather for a night.

"I think the pressure on them now is wanting to end in a winning mode," Liggett said. "At 2-5, there's not much more they can hear negatively that they haven't heard already."

Weeki Wachee at South Sumter, 7:30 p.m.

At this point in the season, neither Weeki Wachee (3-5 overall, 1-3 5A-6) nor South Sumter (8-0 overall, 5-0 5A-6) are altering their fates.

The Red Raiders clinched the district championship with their win at Nature Coast last week. The second-year Hornets have been officially eliminated from the playoff chase.

Nevertheless, with South Sumter, ranked eighth in the Associated Press 5A state poll, steamrolling toward an undefeated slate, Weeki Wachee still faces an uphill climb.

At least the Hornets enter this one with some feel-good momentum off a 31-28 homecoming victory over 8A Orlando-Colonial.

"The weekend feels a lot better when you're coming off a win," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "But we didn't get much time to celebrate with South Sumter coming up next.

"(Head coach) Inman (Sherman), him and his coaching staff do a great job. Their kids are fundamentally sound, they play aggressive and disciplined. They're a very good team.

"We've just got to take it a play at a time and believe we can have success against them."

No one has had much success stopping the Raider offense. South Sumter has outscored its opponents 372-77 after yielding a season high in points in a 51-20 triumph over the Sharks.

Playoff berths are hardly uncommon for the Bushnell-based squad. Dating back to 1997, the Raiders have only missed the postseason twice, in 2009-10.

"They've got kids who have been playing football with each other since they were 6 years old," Lee said. "You grow up wanting to go to school in Sumter County, you go to South Sumter.

"We've got to find a way to get to (Sherman's) level. It's not going to happen overnight."

On this night, Lee said the key will be avoiding mistakes. He reported a clean bill of health for his team, and said the quarterback position remains "to be determined."

However, junior Marcus Allen seems to have settled nicely into the spot since David Tinch went down with a shoulder injury.

Last week Allen completed 7-of-15 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, and ran 17 times for 103 yards and three scores.

"Just to play within our game plan," Lee said of what he hopes to see. "Win the turnover battle. Look to make big plays on defense, make some stops, make them punt the ball. Create little games and try to win little games, and that could lead to big ones."

Central at Pasco, 7:30 p.m.

Still in search of its first win, Central (0-8 overall, 0-4 5A-6) has another tough matchup against a Pasco (4-3 overall, 2-2 5A-6) team fighting for its playoff life.

By defeating Hernando last week, the Pirates put themselves in a position to erase their surprisingly rough start and earn the district's runner-up spot by winning out.

Running back Robbie Bradley will try to add to his stellar senior campaign for the Bears, which has already produced 1,063 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

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