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Eagles enter 11th heaven

Hernando Today correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: November 23, 2013 at 05:06 PM

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SPRING HILL - Springstead's magic carpet ride continued Friday at the expense of Hernando County's previous bully, Gainesville.

The Alachua County-based Hurricanes - the defending 6A state runners-up - had dominated county teams with nine wins in nine previous meetings.

GHS had solved SHS three times in three meetings over the past four seasons.

That dominance ended with a thud in the 6A-Region II semifinal at Booster Stadium.

The Eagles, who arrived averaging 27.4 points per game, tallied four touchdowns - featuring a pair of touchdown passes from do-everything senior quarterback Tyler Mahla, a brilliantly executed 52-yard option pass from backup Joe Jeffords to tight end Tyler Anderson, and 157 rushing yards and a touchdown from junior fullback Daniel Wright - to eliminate Gainesville, 27-7.

With the victory, 11-1 SHS will travel to 12-0 Seffner-Armwood to tackle the Hawks in the 6A-II final next Friday in Hillsborough County.

Armwood advanced Friday by nudging Tampa-Jefferson, 52-48.

Next Friday's regional champion advances to the 6A Final Four.

An Eagle offense that arrived averaging 342 yards overcame three turnovers, and the team overcame the emotional loss of junior linebacker Juan Espinosa to a possible season-ending knee injury, to carve up the 6A-District 5 champion 'Canes (9-3) behind a game-high 344 yards.

Not only did the Eagles become the first Hernando County team to ever notch 11 straight wins, but they became the first county squad to complete a season 7-0 at home.

"Who would have thought we'd be here?" exclaimed SHS' eighth mentor, Mike Garofano. "We gave up 26 points in the second quarter of our first game at Citrus. I remember walking into the locker room at halftime and someone yelling from the stands very derisively, 'Nice job, coach!' Well, I wish I could talk to that guy now."

The first-year Eagle head coach pointed out that his team has continued to excel despite the loss of 114-tackle performer Conor Ross and now 100-tackle performer Espinosa.

"We lose two of our best inside backers, but (Jesse) Cowan steps up and the rest of the guys follow. In our system, it's important to get the reps and make them count because you never know when you're going be called," Garofano said.

On overcoming an uncharacteristic three turnovers, "Normally when you turn the ball over three times to a good team, you're going to lose," said Garofano. "But tonight we forced three turnovers and three sacks."

On what Garofano was most proud of, "This one belongs to fans, the parents - who have supported us all season long. And our coaching staff that came up with a great game plan against a very good team."

According to Garofano, the third-quarter option pass was the backbreaker.

"Coach Kup (Dustin Kupcik) called the play and set it up really nice. But Jeffords threw a perfect pass. (Tyler) Anderson made the perfect catch and took it into the end zone. Anderson's been money all season long," Garofano said.

On handing out game balls, "Our O-line gets the credit, they set the tone again on the opening drive," noted Garofano. "And Wright did another tremendous job."

On the prospects by playing Armwood, "Honestly, I haven't seen much film on Armwood or Jefferson, but I will by Monday, trust me. We know anytime you get to the Elite Eight, you'd better bring your 'A' game."

The Eagles' performance shredded the record book.

Wright's second carry of the game went for 57 yards, eclipsing his personal-best of 55 yards against Hernando. That run put him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.

For the Eagles' O-line of Hunter Hramika, James Kern, Austin Hampton, Jameson Peppe and Michael Miara, that makes two 1,000-yard Eagle rushers in a single season. That's never been achieved on the Mariner Boulevard campus in one year.

Mahla, who arrived with 1,107 rushing yards, needed 48 yards against GHS to surpass Central's Robbie Bradley for the county lead. Mahla finished with 17 carries for 67 yards.

Additionally, SHS' four touchdowns gave it 46 on the season, snapping the 1996 team's previous school record (45).

The Eagles' 27 points pushed the single-season total for points scored to 328, snapping the previous school record of 318 points in 1996.

Besides being the first Hernando County squad to reach the third level of the FHSAA playoffs, senior placekicker Tyler Toth broke one county record and tied another.

Toth converted 3-of-4 point-after attempts. His four attempts snapped Andres Pinzon's previous mark of 43 for Hernando in 2010.

Toth, who is 40-of-45 on PATs, is tied for the county mark with most PATs in a single season with Pinzon (40).

"Our offense executed when we had to," admitted the 17-year-old Toth. "Tonight was a great win. This season has been incredible. Credit belongs to Mahla; he had another solid game.

"I wish I could take credit for my records, but they belong to our offense. When we score, they give me a chance."

SHS, which arrived plus-14 in turnovers, finished even in the turnover battle by swiping two passes (interceptions by Nathan Kocolowski and Richard McCabe) while the senior nose guard Cowan recovered a fumble following a bone-jarring hit by defensive tackle Travis O'Neil.

Cowan replaced Espinosa at inside backer while Kocolowski replaced him along the D-line.

"Our intensity started on the first play," detailed the 17-year-old Cowan. "After Juan (Espinosa) got hurt, we had to buckle up.

"I love the way we're making history," added Cowan. "I'm so proud of these guys, but I really want to go to states. I want to put Springstead and Spring Hill on the map."

SHS harassed GHS sophomore signal caller Caelan Christian into an 8-for-21 effort for 125 passing yards with two interceptions. Christian was sacked three times - one on a combined sack by O'Neil and Jordan Rivera and two by senior Shane Wiggins.

"We played great and ran into some adversity (losing Espinosa). The big thing was we stepped up when we needed to," pointed out the 18-year-old Wiggins. "Our fans have motivated us so much."

SHS sets the tempo

For the second week in a row, SHS drove the opening possession 80 yards in eight plays.

On fourth-down-and-24 from the 'Cane 25, Garofano disdained a long field goal attempt.

Instead, Mahla pumped faked once, then bought time scrambling to his right before finding Jeffords wide open at the far pylon for a 25-yard touchdown pass.

Toth's first PAT followed Mahla's fifth touchdown pass of the season at 8:10.

The 'Canes, who played without 1,200-yard, Oregon-committed running back Tony James (concussion) and electrifying senior receiver Dontarian Evans (dislocated elbow), finally got untracked on their fifth possession.

Down 7-0, the G-men traversed 67 yards on seven plays. Junior Ahmad Ivey's 41-yard burst helped set up senior Tamarcus Faulkner IV's 1-yard touchdown run. Faulkner led GHS with 16 carries for 59 yards.

Following Faulkner's fourth touchdown of the season with 5:10 left in the first half, senior kicker Alex Holloway buried his 31st PAT in 33 tries, 7-7.

SHS bounced back by nearly gobbling up the next five minutes behind a 14-play, 80-yard drive.

Mahla, who finished 5-of-8 passing for 74 yards and one interception, capped the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Wright. The two touchdown passes give Mahla 19 for his career.

Mahla's combined 141 rushing and passing yards pushed him over 5,000 career yards - another school record.

Toth's second PAT with 17.8 seconds left snapped the deadlock, 14-7.

Two plays later, McCabe swiped an errant Christian pass at the Eagle 10 with nine seconds left.

SHS mounted an impressive eight-play, 74-yard drive blending seven runs by Mahla and Wright.

On the eighth play, Mahla pitched the ball to Jeffords on what appeared to be an end around. But Jeffords stopped in his tracks and fired a 52-yard strike to Anderson, who carried a defender into the end zone.

Following Anderson's second touchdown grab of the season, Toth's PAT was blocked with 6:18 left in the third quarter.

"That touchdown pass sucked the life right out of them," explained Wiggins. "It took the wind out of their sails."

The hosts milked nearly the final six minutes of the game on an 11-play, 54-yard drive capped by Wright's 10th touchdown run of the season.

Toth's recording-setting third PAT of the night closed the books with 59 seconds left.

Perhaps Jeffords best summed up the Eagle locker room.

"It's awesome to get a 'W' in your last home game," said the 17-year-old. "The option pass was critical tonight.

"Coach Kup called it and the O-line did an excellent job of blocking. There was no pressure when I got the ball, I just didn't want to underthrow it," he recalled. "Tyler made a nice grab and carried a guy into the end zone.

"Right now, this team is rolling," added Jeffords. "We're making history every week and we're not done."

Springstead 27, Gainesville 7

Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4

GAIN 0 7 0 0 -- 7

SPG 7 7 6 7 -- 27

Individual Scoring:

SPG - Jeffords 25 pass from Mahla (T.Toth kick)

GAIN - Faulkner 1 run (Holloway kick).

SPG - Wright 22 pass from Mahla (T.Toth kick)

SPG - Anderson 52 pass from Jeffords (T.Toth kick fails).

SPG - Wright 1 run (T. Toth kick).


First Downs 10 13

Atts./Rushing Yds. 28-102 50-218

Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 8-21-2 6-9-1

Passing Yds. 125 126

Total Offense 49-227 59-344

Fumbles/Lost 1-1 2-2

Return Yards 6-31 0-0

Punts/Avg. 4-38.5 4-39.0

Penalties 2-10 2-10

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