The expectations heading into this game was to see a display of two strong running attacks. That is exactly what happened, but only one team managed to finish consistently.
After a quick three-and-out by the Sharks that saw the Eagles get the first lead of the game, Nature Coast’s defense tightened up. Their potent running game was able to get going and the Sharks clinched their fourth straight victory over the rival Eagles, 32-7.
In terms of overall play, NCT (1-1) outgained the Eagles (2-1) in total yards (375-186), first downs (14-7), red zone efficiency (NCT 4/5, SHS 0/0), and the turnover battle (4-1). Penalties also hurt both sides in this game, as many big plays were negated by the yellow flag, with the Sharks being hit 12 times for 75 yards and the Eagles 8 for 60.
Individually, the Sharks were led by senior workhorse running back Michael “Mike-Mike” Weston, who carried the ball 31 times for 185 yards and two scores. But he wasn’t the only one to get the rock for NCT, as quarterback Fabian Burnett gained 89 yards on 12 carries, and senior Kinyatah Morgan scored a 24-yard touchdown on his only carry of the game. The longest run for the Sharks came from sophomore Isaac Edwards, who gained 44 yards and brought back memories of former Sharks’ back Deshawn Smith with his elusiveness.
For the Eagles, they were led by senior athlete Nathan Sims, who gained 65 yards on 15 carries, including the lone score for the host Eagles from 28 yards out. Aside from Sims, Adrian Cabrera had 29 yards on nine carries and Cross Licht had 26 yards on six carries. For head coach Mike Garofano, he credited the Sharks with their gameplan: “They moved it up and down the field and controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the contest. The guys they have up front are much bigger than ours.”
The contest could’ve easily gotten out of hand for the Sharks. Following the series prior to Springstead getting an early lead, Weston fumbled, and the Eagles recovered the football. Springstead couldn’t capitalize on the turnover, and the Sharks would chew up the clock, scoring on a five-yard scamper by Burnett. From there, Springstead couldn’t keep pace with NCT, as they just kept eating away at the Eagles’ depth advantage for the remainder of the contest.
For Sharks head coach Cory Johns, the win was significant because of how his team performed as a unit. “It was a great game, exactly what we expected from our guys. Our defense was able to hold its ground, and it was an overall great team effort.” When asked about the running game, Johns said, “Our ground game did a great job. Mike, Fabian, they played their game, and (sophomore) Isaac Edwards, he comes in for Mike when he’s tired and can give him time to get back and ready. People think it’s just Mike, but we have four, five guys who can run the ball effectively.”
For both squads in this contest, next week begins the all-important district play in their respective areas. Both teams will be playing at home on Friday, with Nature Coast welcoming the Central Bears to the Shark Tank and the Eagles hosting the Mitchell Mustangs at Booster Stadium. Both games are slated to start at 7:30PM and each matchup will probably set the tone for their respective finishes in the final standings.