On Friday night, the Crystal River Pirates travelled to Brooksville for a district contest with the Hernando Leopards. Both teams had a critical district loss last week and were looking to bounce back in a must-win game for either side. This game would be contested on two consecutive days, as inclement weather postponed the second half of the contest to Saturday with the Leopards leading 7-0.
The second day proved fruitful for the visiting Pirates (5-1, 2-1 5A-7), as they would be led by senior tailback Deandre Parker to a much-needed victory over the Leopards, 14-7. Parker would finish the contest with 214 yards on 29 carries, scoring twice in the second half to aid his squad.
Crystal River lost the yardage battle (291-253), first down totals (14 to nine), and was penalized more (10 for 85), but won the critical stat: the turnover ratio. Hernando fumbled three times in the second half, twice in Pirate territory, and Crystal River recovered.
“This was a great high school football game tonight. We’ve had two straight weeks of great, back-and-forth contests”, said Pirates head coach Cliff Lohrey afterwards. “This was a great win, no question, and I’m not going to minimize the importance. Playing on two consecutive days with the travel, there were some guys who needed to step up, and they did. This district is a dogfight every single week”.
When discussing the overall play of star back Deandre Parker, Lohrey said: “He’s an exceptional football player, but even more importantly, he’s an outstanding young man in terms of character. We’re very proud to have him representing our team, and our guys definitely react to him”.
Both teams struggled early on the wet field, with neither team being able to get a definitive edge. Each team managed to reach the other side of the 50, but their drives stalled out. Hernando attempted early to convert a fourth-and-one from the Pirates 30 but were stuffed and turned the ball over.
The only score of the first half went to the Leopards, with senior running back Israel “Izzy” Fields scoring from 20 yards coming out of the second quarter water break. Hernando was aided on that drive by a roughing the kicker penalty by the Pirates at their 35-yard line, which kept the offense on the field.
“Two weeks in a row, it’s all about missed opportunities in vital times”, explained Leopards head coach Rob Kazmier. “Crystal River is tough, and we had our chances to win this game. Usually can’t win when you have (three) turnovers in the second half, but we didn’t just give up. It sucks for our seniors, but I told them to keep their heads up.”
Crystal River had a chance to tie the game prior to the first half concluding, but also suffered a turnover on downs at the Leopard 28-yard line with roughly 90 second left in the first half.
On day two of this contest, Crystal River started the second half with possession, but both the Pirates and the Leopards couldn’t get anything going.
Then the turnovers happened. The first fumble came on a bobbled snap by senior quarterback Boston Tafelski, and Nelson Lindsey corralled the ball. Following this turnover, it only took two plays for Crystal River to score, and Parker punched it in from three yards out. The extra point snap was high, and the kick was short, leaving Hernando with a 7-6 lead.
The second fumble by Hernando was on Fields. Taking an inside zone handoff, the senior tailback was stripped at the Pirate 35-yard line, and again the Pirates recovered.
In the fourth quarter, with both squads playing their hearts out, Parker took a keeper on third and nine from the Pirate 31 and managed to break through the line, and he raced up the right side of the field for a 69-yard score.
Hernando would have two chances to tie the game, but the first drive stalled out, and the second drive resulted in the final turnover of the game. That turnover was a fumble by Boston Tafelski on a third down play in which he tried to exploit a hole in the middle of the field but was spun around and stripped.
The Pirates return home next Friday to battle the rival Lecanto Panthers at Bramlett Stadium.
Lecanto was leading the winless Central Bears 7-0 in the second quarter when their game was postponed to Monday night. “We take every week as is. Our goal is to go 1-0 over the week and improve every week, and we never look ahead. We respect Coach Harper and what he’s done
with his program and what they’re trying to build. Great inter-county rivalry next week”, said Lohrey.