SPRING HILL - Hernando County prep teams have always looked up with awe at Tampa-based football programs.
And for good reason. Before Friday, Springstead stood 2-6 lifetime against Hillsborough County teams.
But since Citrus clobbered the Eagles in the season opener, Springstead claimed its fourth straight win behind a season-high 429 yards and 20 first downs by sinking visiting Tampa-Berkeley Prep at Booster Stadium, 30-18.
In the first meeting between both teams since Jimmy Carter was in the White House (1977), SHS (4-1) made it two straight series wins by scoring the initial 17 points of the fourth quarter snapping a 6-all tie.
The Eagles ended a 31-year drought against Hillsborough County teams - claiming their first win since edging Tampa Catholic on Nov. 12, 1982 - shredding the Bucs' (2-2) 4-4 defense for 369 rushing yards.
Behind an emerging O-line, the main catalyst was senior quarterback Tyler Mahla. Mahla led all rushers with a game-high 24 carries for 138 yards and his Hernando County-leading seventh touchdown of the season (5 yards).
Mahla was complemented by junior fullback Daniel Wright's 26 carries for 124 yards and one touchdown (30 yards).
Seniors Kevin Bedford (four carries/55 yards) and Malcolm Fitts (six carries/43 yards) added respective 45- and 14-yard touchdown runs.
Placekicker Tyler Toth converted two point-after boots - he's now 12-of-12 for the season - and added a 20-yard field goal.
Defensively, SHS handcuffed the Bucs to one rushing yard on eight carries in the first half.
During the fourth-quarter run, junior cornerback Juan Espinosa recovered an onside kick while junior inside linebacker Conor Ross registered two of his team's three sacks against Bucs junior signal caller Brad Mayes.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound Mayes, who rushed six times for minus-12 yards, finished 8-of-16 passing for a game-high 134 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns passes (11, 47 yards) to juniors N'namdi Green and Ben Novello. The touchdown passes served as Mayes' fourth and fifth of the season.
Mayes' 5-yard scoring scamper, his second of the season, with 1:24 left closed the books on the game's wild 36-point fourth quarter.
Highlights for the Bucs included an interception by senior linebacker Clint Gasque off Mahla - the Eagles' lone turnover of the game - with 24 seconds left in the first half and an outstanding display by punter/placekicker Austin Iglehart.
Iglehart launched one touchback - his seventh of the season - and boomed six punts for a total of 307 yards and a 51.2 average. For three quarters Iglehart, who came in averaging a pedestrian 33.0 yards per punt, kept flipping the field against the Eagles with punts of 43, 36, 72, 62, 46 and 48 yards.
Iglehart's lone extra-point attempt was blocked, however, by Springstead senior defensive tackle Jesse Cowan.
From the Eagle locker room, the celebration was subdued. The Springstead players understand despite Friday's non-conference, non-district win over the Class 3A, District 4 Bucs, three 6A-6 tilts loom large over the next four games to ultimately determine their playoff fate.
"Tonight was a back-and-forth battle," explained starting right tackle Michael Miara, a rare four-year varsity starter. "Finally in the fourth quarter, we started to execute really well behind Mahla. Like coach said, every win is big."
On the game's significance, "It was exciting beating a Hillsborough County team; it's new around here," responded Miara. "Berkeley was tough, they had big linemen. The thing is we can't relax now with a bunch of district games coming up. We have to treat every game with respect."
Ross, who came in with a county-leading 50 tackles, was upset when the Bucs tied the game.
"We played so well in the first half," noted the 16-year-old Ross, who first started at inside linebacker at 13. "But give Berkeley credit, they made some halftime adjustments and went down (on nine plays gobbling up 80 yards) and scored to tie it up.
"This is a big win because it gives us confidence heading into a stretch of district games," added Ross, a two-time All-County selection. "Hey, I've never beaten a Hillsborough County team before, so it's a big deal."
SHS' first-year skipper Mike Garofano tempered his enthusiasm afterward.
"Yeah, we won but those two late touchdowns put a damper on things," described Garofano, the former defensive coordinator. "I was pleased on how our offense took over in the fourth quarter. They had some guys going both ways; some of their guys were cramping late in the game.
"I thought we were fresher down the stretch and our O-line kind of pushed them around. We're a second-half team," said Garofano. "That's our DNA. I just wish our receivers would have held on to some passes. We had too many drops and they killed drives."
On the game's difference, "With the way our O-line was playing, Tyler (Mahla) and Daniel (Wright) were gashing people," detailed Garofano. "Berkeley Prep is a solid team. They've got players all over the field. Anytime you win it's big. This was big for our program going against any Hillsborough team."
On the Eagles' unlikely heroes, "Kevin (Bedford) was sick all week and didn't start, but he provided us with a big spark on the go-ahead touchdown drive," noted Garofano. "He served as a fresh set of wheels - it was a big boost. So did Malcolm (Fitts) in the first half.
"Defensively, that onside kick recovery by Espinosa kept the ball rolling there in the fourth quarter and Conor came up huge with his two sacks."
Springstead 30, Tampa-Berkeley Prep 18
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
BP 0 0 6 12 --18
SPG 6 0 0 24 --30
SPG - Fitts 14 run (Mahla pass fails).
BP - Green 11 pass from Mayes (Iglehart kick blocked by Cowan).
SPG - Mahla 5 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - Wright 30 run (T. Toth kick).
SPG - T. Toth 20 field goal.
BP - Novello 47 pass from Mayes (Mayes pass fails).
SPG - Bedford 45 run (T. Toth kick).
BP - Mayes 5 run (Mayes pass fails).
First Downs 10 20
Atts./Rushing Yds. 22-75 62-369
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 8-16-0 6-13-1
Passing Yds. 134 60
Total Offense 38-209 75-429
Fumbles/Lost 1-1 0-0
Return Yards 4-91 3-40
Punts/Avg. 6-51.2 4-34.3
Penalties 3-44 5-30