SPRING HILL - This time, Daniel Wright left Booster Stadium on his own two feet.
The Springstead junior running back had spent most of the night using them to wreak havoc on the Gainesville defense.
He ran 27 times for 157 yards and scored twice in Friday's Class 6A, Region II semifinal against the visiting Hurricanes, playing a major role in the Eagles' historic 27-7 victory.
A week earlier, that didn't seem possible. Not when he was taken off the field on a stretcher, and departed the grounds in an ambulance.
"Oh it's tons better, tons," said Wright, who suffered a severe knee bruise in the second quarter of last week's win over Citrus. "I wanted to stay and I wanted to play. I found out it was nothing serious, so I came back (this week) ready to play.
"I knew I was going to come back. I wasn't just going to give up. I was ready. I was practicing all week. I was ready."
That became apparent very quickly. On his second carry, Wright broke free down the right sideline for a 57-yard run to the Gainesville 11-yard line.
Eventually the Eagles turned that into their first touchdown, taking the lead on the game's opening drive for the second week in a row.
"It set a tone for the team, me, everyone," Wright said. "It put a lot of confidence in me, my knee, what I could do. I was like 'All right, I'm ready, I'm ready for this. We're going to work as a team and get things going.'"
"It was huge, and I think it gave him some confidence, like 'Ok, I'm good, my knee's good, I can take a hit, I can take a beating, I can motor,' for however many yards he had," Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. "I think it lifted his confidence and the team's, as well, that 'Hey, here we go, our offense is rolling.'"
After the 'Canes had tied the game at 7, Wright provided the Eagles with a halftime edge, taking a short pass from Tyler Mahla and weaving his way 22 yards to the end zone with 17.8 remaining before the intermission.
Later on, Wright ran in from a yard out with 59.4 left to play, sealing a triumph that sent a Hernando County team into a third postseason round for the first time.
"It means a lot," Wright said. "It gives me a lot of confidence in my knee and how our team plays, and just our O-line. Honestly, they did everything. I couldn't have done it without them. Even our running backs making great blocks, cause they come out of the backfield, block for me; amazing."
"Oh it was a huge lift, huge lift," Garofano said of Wright's return. "He's the focal point of our offense. He's out in a stretcher, he doesn't practice Monday but he practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and he played tonight. And he played his guts out, he played with heart.
"And this is a long season for him. . He gets hit all the time, every play, even when he doesn't have the ball. So he takes a beating. He's 165 pounds, but he's got the heart and he's got the toughness."
He also has a 1,000-yard season to his credit. An All-County pick as a sophomore rushing for 688 yards and nine touchdowns, he came into Friday having carried the ball 174 times this season for 979 yards and nine scores.
Wright admitted that 1,000 yards was "what I was shooting for," and he joined Mahla to become the first Springstead teammates to surpass 1,000 in the same year.
Gainesville head coach Matt Latsko, in his first year guiding the 'Canes, knew all about the Mahla-Wright duo from his previous gig as Hernando High defensive coordinator.
"They did a good job exploiting our holes in the defense," Latsko said. "They ran that C-gap outside veer, kind of took advantage of the bubble our defense was giving them, and we just couldn't get them off the field. And they really controlled the line and time of possession."
The Eagles will need to do that and more in order to compete with perennial state powerhouse Seffner-Armwood next week. For now, they could just enjoy the moment.
"It's amazing," Wright said. "It's still mind-blowing. Going to the third round of the playoffs, only a junior, I'm ready. I'm ready to make more history.
"We want one more. Every time, one more; that's all we say."