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Friday, Mar 27, 2015

O-line ready to answer playoff bell

Hernando Today correspondent


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Two Eagles have certainly shouldered the burden of success for Springstead's 38th football team.

Senior quarterback Tyler Mahla has done his part in the veer option with a season for the record books.

The 6-foot, 155-pound Mahla became the fifth Spring Hill gridders since 1990 to rush for 1,000 yards in last Friday's 41-20 win over archrival Hernando.

Mahla enters Friday's 13th series clash against Citrus with a career-high 1,045 yards on 157 carries - or a 6.66 average per carry.

He's tallied a school-record 16 rushing touchdowns this fall. In the process, he snapped Tim Dow's 2004 mark of 14 rushing touchdowns.

Mahla enters the rematch with 96 points - the most in school history. No Eagle gridder has ever reached 100 points in a single season.

Completing the first part of the triple option on the mesh is only half the story.

When Mahla has thrown the football, he's connected on 50-of-98 passes for 648 yards and three touchdowns, against four interceptions.

To date, he's approaching 5,000 career combined rushing and passing yards - something no Eagle has ever approached.

When defenses have loaded up to stop Mahla junior fullback Daniel Wright has excelled - ask Land O' Lakes or Hernando .

The 5-foot-10, 167-pound Wright gashed the Gators for 167 yards and three scores and followed up with 156 yards and two scores against the Leopards.

Wright enters Friday needing 67 yards to attain 1,000 on the season. The All-County performer has scored nine touchdowns.

Most folks believe that Mahla and Wright have carried the team.

According to the Eagles' O-line featuring left tackle Hunter Hramika, left guard James Kern, center Austin Hampton, right guard Jameson Peppe and right tackle Michael Miara - they've carried the team, not the other way around.

On Aug. 30 at the Citrus Bowl, SHS was ambushed by the Golden Hurricanes, 42-14.

Mahla recalls the stench from the Eagles' season-high four-turnover performance at Citrus Bowl.

"The Bible says not to live with revenge in your heart," pointed out the 18-year-old Mahla on the game's motivation. "It's really not about getting back at them; it's all about getting a win."

On what the difference will be this time, "Our O-line has done a great job since the second half of that game," he said. "Trust me when I say those guys are going to be ready.

"Another big key is ball security. That was our worst turnover game. Ball security is intensified during the playoffs. The key on Friday is execution and that starts with me and our O-line."

"We've got to come at them, like they came at us," identified the 15-year-old, 6-foot-3, 285-pound Hramika. "We're a completely different team than who we were in August."

"What did I see the first time? We just didn't play well," responded the 16-year-old, 6-foot, 208-pound Kern. "All we've worked on this week is execution.

"This is huge game for us. We've made history all season. We want to continue making history here," he said. "No matter what losses we may have on one play, the key on Friday is executing the game plan."

"To me, Friday's game is personal," explained the 17-year-old, 5-foot-9, 198-pound Hampton. "This is payback. In that first meeting our backs weren't cooperating with the O-line like we are now. We had some guys making their first varsity starts. There were some first-game jitters.

"As a whole, we're so much better now. And we're hitting our stride. I can't wait to play."

"We weren't a whole unit when we played at Citrus in Week 1," explained the 5-foot-10, 210-pound, 17-year-old Peppe. "I'm a senior, this is my payback game. I'm so grateful for a second chance. I want to go out with a bang."

On what the difference will be, "We've improved so much across the board," he said. "As an O-line we were standing around a lot during the classic and the Citrus game. Now, we're finishing blocks.

"Since that game, our ball security has improved. It'll be huge again on Friday."

The 5-foot-11, 278-pound Miara, a rare four-year starter, agrees with Peppe.

"We're not the same team that played those guys before. Right now, it's like we're hitting our stride," pointed out Miara. "As a unit we've done a much better job of staying on our blocks and getting downfield. I really think with some of the younger guys, there were a lot of first-game jitters.

"Look, Citrus is a good team. They wouldn't be playing at this stage if they weren't," he said. "I don't think we expected what we received last time up there. Trust me, we're coming in ready. The mindset is all about execution."

SHS' offensive coordinator Dustin Kupcik doubles as the Eagles' O-line mentor.

"We weren't nearly as cohesive a unit in that first game as we are right now," said Coach Kupcik. "(Running back Kevin) Bedford had just come back after not playing a year, same with (Austin) Stock. We essentially started an O-line with three new starters in a hostile environment against an outstanding football team.

"The difference is this time, we've begun to jell," he said. "Our O-line has learned to trust in each other and they're finishing blocks. That's something we just didn't do early in the season."

On the game's possible difference Friday night, "Offensively, we get a lot of people involved," Coach Kupcik said. "Let them load up one guy; that's fine. We'll go to the hot hand. When we spread the wealth, we've been pretty difficult to stop.

"Another big issue in the first meeting was ball security, it's something we stress every hour of every practice," Kupcik said. "If you win the turnover battle, in most games, you win period.

"Give credit to Citrus, they're a physical bunch that lives on pressuring the backfield; we think we've corrected some of our mistakes. On Friday, we have to protect the football and we have to execute. They were the aggressors the first time; we have to be the aggressors this time.

"To me, it all starts on the opening whistle. If we win the toss, our offense takes the field first. I expect our O-line to set the tone."

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