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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Mahla's mastery continues


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SPRING HILL - He scored with his feet. He scored with his arm. He punted. He even made a cameo on defense.

Tyler Mahla certainly isn't doing it all for Springstead this season, though sometimes it might seem that way.

Yet as the senior quarterback celebrated the Eagles' Class 6A, Region II quarterfinal victory over Citrus Friday night, he wanted no part of talking about himself.

"I really don't like to think about how I played. I like to think about how we all played together," Mahla said. "Credit that to my line and my wide receivers blocking downfield, and my fullbacks taking the hits when they don't have the ball and taking the ball down the field when I don't have it. It really is all of us together."

No doubt Springstead's reversal of a 42-14 shellacking at the hands of the Hurricanes in Week 1 was a collaborative effort.

Much credit belongs to a defense that was never scored upon and didn't allow Citrus to gain any traction.

However, when it came to putting points on the board, Mahla kept finding himself in the middle of it.

He came into the night second in the county in rushing with 1,045 yards and had scored a school record of 16 touchdowns in the regular season.

His passing numbers were more modest, 51-of-99 for 658 yards with three touchdowns against four interceptions, though Springstead's triple option hardly calls for an aerial display.

The two-time All-County selection and three-year starter was an end zone magnet again on the Eagles' first two scores against the visiting 'Canes.

Mahla faked a handoff and surged up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown, capping a statement-making opening drive that used up over eight minutes.

"It's really helpful when you can take a lot of time off the clock and put points on the board," Mahla said. "Anytime we can keep our defense off the field for as long as possible, we like them to get rest and just get ready. It's perfect; it's a win-win."

"It was huge," Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. "Defensively, we're over there resting. It keeps their explosive, high-powered, 36-point-a-game offense off the field.

"You can't say enough about that first drive. It set the tone for the game, it really did. They were all hyped up and excited to start the game. Kind of took the wind out of their sail having that 8-9-minute drive, and not just to have it but to finish the drive."

It was Mahla steering the veer, and he struck again early in the second quarter, rolling to his right and faking a throw, only to tuck the ball away and scamper to the end zone from 10 yards out.

Citrus returned the ensuing kickoff to pull back within a score, and a knee injury that sent fullback Daniel Wright to the hospital threatened to swing the momentum.

After an offsides call negated a field goal, Springstead opted to go for it from the 'Canes 10 with time running out in the half.

This time Mahla passed for a touchdown, hitting Joe Jeffords with 9.3 remaining before halftime.

"He's the leader of the offense," Garofano said of Mahla. "He's the leader of the ship. He doesn't panic. He just makes plays.

"Right before the half we had gotten a jump on the field goal. We had no timeouts, about 15 seconds left. I trust him to make a play; not get sacked, not keep the ball inbounds. Either a touchdown or an incomplete pass.

"Right there, it's huge. We go from 17-6 right before the half to 21-6 right before the half. He made a great throw. Joe Jeffords made a great catch."

The Eagles, who had no turnovers, sat on the cushion over the next two quarters. Mahla finished with 16 carries for 38 yards, and 4-of-7 passing for 43 yards.

He also assumed his usual role as punter, and briefly appeared as a defensive back.

"Gritty performance, gutty performance," Garofano said. "He got beat up; physically beat up. The whole team got beat up last time we played these guys. They're a physical crew.

"They came in here running their mouths. They came in and they were talking all kinds of stuff before the game, even on the sidelines, cursing and hooting and hollering. That's not our style. We're a class organization. We're not going to be like that. We do the talking with our pads and that's what we did."

As a result, the Eagles earned a trip to the 6A-II semifinals next Friday, when they'll host Gainesville.

Meanwhile, they could enjoy the first home playoff triumph in school history.

"It's a really big win," Mahla said. "We all just wanted to come here and get one more game and we did it. We executed our game plan and I just love this team."

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