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Tables turned as Eagles eliminate 'Canes

Hernando Today correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: November 16, 2013 at 02:46 AM

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SPRING HILL - Despite off-and-on showers against an offensive juggernaut in Class 6A, District 5 runner-up Citrus at Booster Stadium, Springstead's 38th team continued to turn the page on its newly minted record book.

Forget the Golden Hurricanes' Aug. 30 42-14 pasting over the Eagles at the Citrus Bowl. In the season opener, the 'Canes eased off the gas pedal after forging ahead 42-0 midway through the third quarter - prompting a mercy-rule running clock.

Friday's rematch in the 13th series meeting in Spring Hill was a different story - the tables were turned.

A stout Hurricane team arrived winner of 11-of-12, averaging 36 points per game, averaging nearly 390 yards of total offense and possessor of 41 touchdowns.

Yet, against a fired-up Eagle defense - led by Travis O'Neil, Juan Espinosa and Austin Stock - the 'Canes were defused, totaling 141 net yards and zero offensive points.

Springstead (10-1) claimed its school-record 10th straight victory behind a yeoman-like effort on defense, and senior quarterback Tyler Mahla's two rushing touchdowns (6, 10 yards) along with a Mahla to Joe Jeffords 10-yard touchdown pass, eliminating Citrus in the 6A-Region II quarterfinal, 21-6.

"What a difference," pointed out a jubilant SHS head coach Mike Garofano. "Those guys scored 42 points on us last time and this time their offense doesn't score a point. We just kept them in front of us. Our D-line deserves the credit. I can't put into words how well we played defensively without either Conor (Ross) or Brian (Rae).

"I'm so proud of these guys," added the rookie mentor. "Winning the county and district again wasn't enough. Winning 10 in a row isn't enough. Winning our first home playoff game isn't enough. I'll tell you we will have our hands full (in next week's semifinals) with a Gainesville team that is physical and athletic and a coach that knows us pretty well."

According to Garofano, the key to the game was the opening drive.

"We kept the ball over eight minutes and finished a drive against a very good team," he said. "And then our defense goes out there and forces a punt. It was a tremendous start. It's one they never really recovered from. Defensively, our guys played fast and physical."

Despite playing without two injured defensive starters - the junior middle backer Ross (knee), and junior cornerback Rae (collarbone) - SHS became the first Hernando County team to reach the elite 10-win plateau since Hernando Christian Academy went 10-0 in 2008.

Not only did the Eagles improve to 4-3 at home against 9-2 Citrus, the Mariner Boulevard gridders notched the school's first-ever home playoff win after four setbacks.

With the win, SHS will host one of the 6A-II semifinals next Friday against 6A-5 champion Gainesville. Those Hurricanes (9-2) converted a field goal in the waning seconds to edge Sunlake, 17-14.

The G-men are led by first-year skipper Mark Latsko, who directed Hernando High's defense as late as last year.

For the second time in three games, Springstead's win may have come at a huge cost.

Junior fullback Daniel Wright suffered a knee injury with 10 minutes remaining in the first half and eventually left Booster Stadium in an ambulance.

From the local hospital, Wright's mother informed SHS skipper Mike Garofano the X-rays to his knees were negative, but his playing status for next week remains unknown.

Wright, who needed 67 yards to reach the coveted 1,000-rushing plateau, left with 26 yards on 12 carries.

The Canes lost a key player, too.

Junior and 6-foot-3, 205-pound wideout Sam Franklin, who led the team in receptions (22), receiving yardage (509) and yards per catch (23.14), was ejected from the game by West Coast Officials Association referee Ben Heugel.

Away from a running play, Franklin was clearly seen throwing a punch at Eagle receiver Brandon Geiger, who was lying on the ground. After the whistle, Franklin took off his helmet and walked directly off the field.

The personal foul was part of the Hurricanes' undoing. Citrus was whistled for a game-high nine penalties for 107 yards. Franklin's ejection compounded Citrus' position.

The game's tone was established early.

Garofano's crew's took advantage of two Citrus penalties (a 5-yard offside call and a call for pass interference) to help sustain a 17-snap, 62-yard drive that gobbled up the game's initial 8:16.

Wright and Bedford (18 carries, game-high 77 yards) alternated carries before Mahla capped the drive with a 6-yard keeper.

The first of two Mahla touchdowns pushed him over the 100-point plateau this season. In the process, he becomes the school's first player in nearly four decades to achieve the rare feat.

Senior placekicker Tyler Toth, who arrived 34-of-38 on point-afters, converted the first of three perfect boots with 3:44, 7-0. That initial successful kick snapped the school-record tie he had with Nate Schafer dating back to 2008.

After forcing the first of four CHS punts, Mahla zoomed 19 on the first play of the next series. At the tail end of the effort, the 'Canes were whistled for another personal foul.

Compounding maters, two plays later Franklin was ejected.

The Eagles marched 80 yards in eight snaps to double the lead as Mahla capped the scoring effort with a 10-yard keeper up the middle.

Mahla, who despite five carries for negative losses (including a pair of sacks by Steven Knowles), finished with 38 rushing yards on 16 hard-earned attempts.

His 17th and 18th touchdowns of the season helped pad his school mark for most touchdowns in a single season.

Moments after Toth's second PAT upped the ante to 14-0 with 10:29 left in the second quarter, Citrus climbed back into the game as senior James Pouncey returned Toth's ensuing angled kick 81 yards for a touchdown.

CHS placekicker Josh Marsden, who arrived with a below average 27-of-33 effort in point-afters, misfired on the ensuing boot with 10:11 showing.

After the teams traded four punts, senior Latavious Hannah's 21-yard return of a 31-yard Marsden punt set the Eagles up at the CHS 45.

The hosts covered the distance in eight plays.

SHS called its final timeout of the first half with 15.9 seconds left facing third-and-goal at the CHS 10. According to Coach Garofano, Jeffords suggested that the Eagles run a particular pass route.

Mahla rolled to his right and fired a 10-yard slant strike to a wide-open Jeffords for his fourth touchdown pass of the season. Toth's third PAT closed the books.

CHS was handcuffed to two first-half first downs and 32 yards of total offense. In fact, the visitors had twice as many penalty yards (88) than offensive yards.

In an evenly played second half, the Hurricanes punted once and turned the ball over on downs thrice.

In a game where neither team turned the ball over, CHS' key playmakers were neutralized.

Senior quarterback Deion Moore, who arrived with 16 touchdown passes against two interceptions, finished 5-of-14 for 38 passing yards. Moore did rush for 45 yards on 13 carries.

Pouncey, who arrived with a team-leading 816 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, managed 11 yards on four quiet carries.

"The key tonight was being aggressive," explained 16-year-old inside linebacker Juan Espinosa. "We wanted to be physical and when we're on the attack, we're hard to beat. The key tonight on defense was being relentless. We knew we were a different team than we were back in Game 1."

Besides the stellar defense, Espinosa praised Mahla, saying, "He played great; he always does. To me, he shows us the way."

Espinosa summed up his team's thoughts, "We're not looking ahead; we're just focusing on Gainesville. At this point everybody here is praying for Daniel (Wright). I pray he'll be back next week."

"Breaking a record was news to me," said the 17-year-old Toth. "It's kind of cool. Before this year, I was never a placekicker."

On the keys to the game, "That first drive ate the clock and kinda of shut them up," he said. "They were talking a lot of junk. We're not done though; we're looking forward to next week."

Bedford's 18 carries surpassed his seasonal high of 13 against Land O' Lakes.

"We came out wanting to attack," pointed out the 18-year-old Beford, who arrived with 440 rushing yards. "That was the game plan. All I tried to do was carry out my responsibilities.

"Ball security was major tonight. We did a much better job protecting the ball than we did in the first game," he said. "Just before the game the significance kind of hit me. I didn't want this to be the last time I play with this group of brothers. Right now, it feels real good. I'm so proud of this team."

O'Neil, who practically lived in the Hurricane backfield, said, "Our guys played out every snap. We all played like this was our last snap.

"To me the first drive was huge. We set the tone right away," said the 17-year-old O'Neil. "We were so much better prepared for those guys this time. I just hope Daniel is OK. He's in our prayers. If anyone can come back it's him, he's one of the toughest football players I've seen."

Springstead 21, Citrus 6

Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4

CIT 0 6 0 0 -- 6

SPG 7 14 0 0 -- 21

Individual Scoring:

SPG - Mahla 6 run (T. Toth kick).

SPG - Mahla 10 run (T. Toth kick).

CIT - Pouncey 81 kickoff return (Marsden kick fails).

SPG - Jeffords 10 pass from Mahla (T.Toth kick)


First Downs 8 14

Atts./Rushing Yds. 28-103 50-151

Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 5-14-0 4-7-0

Passing Yds. 38 43

Total Offense 42-141 57-194

Fumbles/Lost 2-0 1-0

Return Yards 3-81 5-96

Punts/Avg. 4-34.0 5-31.0

Penalties 9-107 3-37

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