HOLIDAY – With Hernando County’s 2013 prep football Player of the Year, Springstead’s Tyler Mahla, no longer under center and 10 days away from commencement exercises, Thursday night served as baptism by fire for new Eagle signal caller Victor Koerick.
Facing an Anclote team minus 22 seniors from last season’s district championship squad, the southpaw Koerick departed Pasco County with mixed results.
Koerick survived three self-inflicted turnovers – two lost fumbles plus an interception – to guide the Eagles to 31 straight unanswered points highlighted by fullback Daniel Wright’s game-high three rushing touchdowns to filet the host Sharks, 31-7.
“It was a real sloppy first half,” admitted SHS skipper Mike Garofano. “If I’m in Koerick’s shoes, I’m nervous, too. He was understandably a little shaky. But you measure players on how they respond to adversity and I’m real proud on how he responded.
“After a couple early mistakes, he put the football on the mark. I’m really happy with his performance.”
On trailing early, “After they scored first, our sideline got a little deflated,” recalled Garofano. “We tied the score on Wright’s first touchdown and I thought the field goal right before the half gave us some momentum.
“Then Curtis (Cadawalader), who didn’t even play ball with us last year, made a huge play on their first drive with a pick at the goal line,” described last season’s Coach of the Year Garofano.
After Wright carved up the Sharks in Spring Hill last season for 187 yards and two scores, Garofano wasn’t fazed by Wright’s success behind an offensive line minus three starters from last year, including All-County center Austin Hampton (bad elbow).
“Danny is a warrior,” detailed Garofano. “In the first half, he got 2-3-4 yards every carry. In the second half, he’d turn those same plays into 5-10-yard gains or more. The key is he keeps his feet churning.
“The way we finished drives and tackle is the biggest positive from tonight,” pointed out Garofano. “We started a lot of inexperienced kids tonight, but I’m so proud of the effort.”
❖ ❖ ❖
Koerick’s first-ever attempted pass on his second series slipped out of his hands without anyone hitting him for a 6-yard loss that was recovered by Anclote’s Ty Arroyo.
On his team’s next possession, Koerick telegraphed a pass that was intercepted and returned 18 yards the other way for a pick-6 by the Sharks’ active inside linebacker Zach Adams.
Sophomore placekicker Brad Orth tacked on the point-after kick forging a 7-0 AHS cushion with 63 seconds left in the first quarter.
Though Koerick lost another fumble on the second possession of the second half – when his offensive line was accidentally pushed back into him causing the miscue – he remained resilient and composed.
Though Koerick rushed 13 times for a net 13 yards and clicked on 2-of-4 passes for a modest 37 yards, he guided the Eagles to a game-high 294 yards, including a whopping 254-54 edge in rushing.
“Tonight was my first varsity start,” pointed out the 16-year-old Koerick. “I was a little shaky to begin with, but I started gaining my confidence as the game went on.
“I tried my hardest. I want to follow in the footsteps left behind by Mahla,” he said. “But I know I’ve got a lot to learn. I’d give myself a C-plus or a B-minus tonight.”
Koerick’s security blanket, the two-time All-County back Wright, clipped the Sharks for 126 yards on a game-high 29 carries and three scores (1, 2 and 21 yards).
“I thought we came off a little timid to open the game,” recalled the 17-year-old Wright. “The defense played hard all night. As the game progressed, we put it all together in the second half.
“I thought we did a good job of overcoming our early mistakes. Springstead football is all about finishing.”
Yet, Wright had plenty of support.
Dylan McLeod, who rushed twice in the fourth quarter for 48 yards, added a touchdown from 21 yards out with 3:22 left in the game.
Defensively, McLeod, Zach Lawrence and Robert Holdway helped restrict the West Pasco County Sharks to 54 rushing yards on 25 carries.
SHS led 10-7 at the intermission thanks to placekicker Brian Rae’s 25-yard field goal at the buzzer.
Rae, who also played in the secondary, was a part of an Eagle unit that muzzled AHS to 15 first-half plays for a net 14 yards.
In the second half, AHS signal caller Brandon Vinkler connected on 7-of-18 aerials (he misfired on his only attempt in the first half) for a game-high 100 yards.
Despite clicking on passes to five different receivers, Vinkler was victimized by two second-half interceptions.
On AHS’ opening drive of the second half, Vinkler appeared to connect with wide-open receiver Jonte Scott on a 3-yard touchdown pass. Last year at Booster Stadium, Vinkler torched the Eagles for two touchdown passes, including one to Scott.
But the host fans moaned as the Sharks were flagged on the play for an illegal receiver downfield, negating the potential go-ahead score.
Compounding matters, on first-and-goal from the Eagle 8, the left-handed Vinkler rolled left and threw a pass toward the near pylon that Springstead cornerback Curtis Cadawalader picked off.
That missed opportunity would serve as the deepest penetration for the AHS offense all night.
“What I remember was the play was breaking down and I tried to keep the receiver in front of me,” described the 17-year-old Cadawalader. “The ball fell right into my arms. The key for us defensively was we came out hitting and continued to bring the heat as the game went on.”
The 31-member Sharks squad – with many players going both ways, including Vinkler – seemed to wilt as SHS countered with three fourth-quarter touchdowns on drives of 61, 17 and 48 yards.
Though SHS coughed the ball up three times, its defense responded with three turnovers: two interceptions (by Cadawalader and Rae) and one fumble recovery (by Lawrence).
On special teams, Holdway’s first-quarter 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was negated on a penalty (reducing the return to 57 yards), while Rae sparkled connecting on 4-of-4 PATs, plus his only field goal attempt and adding a touchback.
Springstead 31, Anclote 7
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
SPG 0 10 0 21 --31
ANC 7 0 0 0 --7
ANC – Adams 18 INT TD return (Orth kick).
SPG – Wright 1 run (Rae kick).
SPG – Rae 25 FG.
SPG – Wright 21 run (Rae kick).
SPG – Wright 2 run (Rae kick).
SPG – McLeod 21 run (Rae kick).
First Downs 16 8
Atts./Rushing Yds. 56-254 25-54
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 2-4-1 7-19-2
Passing Yds. 37 100
Total Offense 60-291 44-154
Fumbles/Lost 4-3 2-1
Return Yards 2-75 4-25
Punts/Avg. 2-28.5 4-26.0
Penalties 6-68 6-48