WEEKI WACHEE - Starring at a second-half deficit against its fledgling county rival and the possibility of starting off 0-3, Hernando turned things up a notch Friday night.
After Weeki Wachee recovered an onside kick out of halftime and converted that into a 10-7 lead, the Leopards scored 20 unanswered points, pulling away for a 27-10 victory at the Hornets Nest in the first-ever meeting between the schools.
"I thought we came out of the box slow," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "We can't come out of the box like that against these other teams we're going to be playing because if we do they're going to put it on us.
"I think with them getting that onside kick and then going down to score, our guys felt a sense of urgency; hey, we need to do something or this team is going to beat us. So they started blocking, started going in there making tackles, doing the stuff that they need to do, and plays started working."
The Leopards (1-2 overall, 1-0 Class 5A, District 6) rushed for 306 yards and scored all four of their touchdowns on the ground.
Mondrell Brown (10 carries, 107 yards), Richard Graham IV (13 carries, 97 yards) and Ra'shaad Hart (six carries, 64 yards) paced the run game and each found the end zone.
Meanwhile the Hornets (1-3 overall, 0-1 5A-6) mustered 36 yards on 37 rushing attempts, and mounted 155 yards of total offense while throwing two interceptions.
Junior Marcus Allen handled nearly every snap under center, with starter David Tinch nursing an injured shoulder.
"We just couldn't get anything going offensively," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "We had trouble blocking up front. I really think if we had time to throw the ball that could open some things up. I saw a lot of things we could do but you can't do it when you're throwing from your back. We've got to fix that.
"We saw what they were doing. The defense, they're active, they're aggressive. We thought we would be able to match up with it and we didn't."
Lee called this "by far the best performance we've had this season defensively" with the exception of three big plays.
The first of those came on third-and-8 from the Hernando 47, when Graham ran 43 yards to the Hornet 10.
The junior carried the ball each of the next three plays, scoring from three yards out with 1:05 left in the opening quarter.
Eventually Weeki Wachee got on the board via a 33-yard Tinch field goal with 50.7 remaining before the intermission.
A personal foul against Hernando on a blocked field goal attempt to end the half gave the Hornets a short kickoff to start the third quarter.
That's when they pulled off a successful onside kick, recovered at the Leopard 26, and Allen ran in a 1-yard quarterback sneak to push Weeki Wachee in front at 9:55.
Hernando regained the advantage on a 42-yard touchdown scamper by Brown, who took a pitch and exploded up the middle at the 4:31 mark of the third.
Graham scored again late in the period on a 4-yard rush. The junior came into the game with a combined 139 yards and no touchdowns on the varsity level.
"I've been on the team and everything, but I've just been sitting back too long and haven't made a name for myself," Graham said. "I know I got enough talent to go to college and I don't want to be one of those guys who wait till their senior year to try to do something.
"It feels good. It gives me a lot confidence. Sometimes my confidence goes down a little bit, but my running back coach (Dan Oliver) gets on me a lot but he does it for the best, really."
Likewise, Brown entered with five career carries for 16 yards and no scores.
Hart, the quarterback, tacked on a 38-yard touchdown with 4:48 remaining in the game, to add to the team's stellar rushing performance.
"The line started blocking," Mobley said. "The line started pushing those guys around and the running backs started running the ball hard. That's what we've been trying to instill in the running backs, drop your head and go.
"Running back is one of the strongest positions we have because we have so many good running backs."
While the Hornets travel to Zephyrhills for another 5A-6 battle next Friday, Hernando has a non-district home game against state-ranked Cocoa.
At least now, though, the Leopards have some positive momentum to build upon.
"It feels great," Mobley said. "It's tough to come out and practice all week and then finally get to play a game and then you end up losing the game.
"Now you go back to the drawing board to try to find out what you did wrong, what's happening, what the kids are not doing, what we need to show them. It feels good to go home tonight knowing, hey, what we were doing was working."
Hernando 27, Weeki Wachee 10
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
HER 7 0 14 6 - 27
WW 0 3 7 0 - 10
HER - Graham 3 run (Garcia kick)
WW - Tinch 33 field goal
WW - Allen 1 run (Tinch kick)
HER - Brown 42 run (Garcia kick)
HER - Graham 4 run (Garcia kick)
HER - Hart 38 run (Garcia kick no good)
First Downs 12 11
Atts./Rushing Yds. 40-306 37-36
Comps./Pass/Atts/Int. 6-18-0 12-29-2
Passing Yds. 65 119
Total Offense 58-371 66-155
Return Yds. 5-79 9-76
Punts/Avg. 5-38.8 7-37.0
Fumbles/Lost 3-0 2-0
Penalties 9-121 2-15