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Cleaning Up the Little Things

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BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Well, it sorta looked better!

With the shutout defeat of August 30, still a fresh and a tender memory, Nature Coast Tech High School football coach Cory Johns wanted to witness his team’s ability to overcome the adversity and play a better game of football.

On a hot Friday night, Sept. 6, once again the Sharks felt the disappointment of another defeat. A 30-19, lost against cross town rival, Springstead High School. The lost did do some harm to the Sharks, because it was the third home game of the season, inside a very steamy and sweaty night at the Shark Tank.

After the game the Sharks left with their team meeting in the end zone, there was still plenty of excitement in the air from the fans. They lined up on the sideline showing their support and to also exhibit loud encouragement toward the battled-tested Sharks.

The 2019 State of Florida football season is now four weeks old and the Sharks have only one win this season, but Johns is still calm about the rest of the season.

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“We’re playing better especially offensively, we are playing much better defensively,” Johns said after the game. “We were moving the ball up and down the field. It’s just penalty-stall drives and you can’t do that, small mistakes add up.”

During the game, Johns expanded the offensive playbook against the Eagles’ defense. There were some different combinations of formation, different players for added depth and a rotation of quarterbacks to run the different formation.

There were I-formations option, veer formation, there were triple receivers on one side of the line of scrimmage and what appeared to be the most successful formation of the night, a Wildcat formation featuring junior halfback Dedric Hall taking direct snaps.

Johns explained after the game, that the Wildcat is a formation that helps the Sharks get a little more physical and to take advantage of open space.

“It was our best offensive formation of the night, Dedric is our best offensive player,” Johns said. “We are more physical than them. And when we lined up and oppose our will on them, we can have Dedric find some space.”

Getting over the shutout against South Sumter High School was the challenge for the week of practice for Johns and for the Sharks. Johns wanted to observe if his team could adapt, overcome the adversity and score touchdowns.

With five minutes left in the second quarter, the scoreless streak for the Sharks came to an end. Shark’s quarterback Vaughn Sykora found Hall streaking on a flag route for 45-yards and a touchdown. Which breathed a little bit of life for the Sharks’ bench and created a chance for celebration from the student section in the stands.

The momentum did not stay long with the Sharks. 

The very next possession for the Eagles, they proceeded down the field with some timely running by the running backs and by the surprising accurate arm of Springstead High School quarterback Max O’Rourke.

Eagles’ senior wide receiver David Battle caught the first pass of the night for the Eagles, it was an eight-yard reception and he turned it into a touchdown.

Johns has mentioned that he would recommend not to kick the football to NCT junior Kinyatah Morgan. For most of the night and in fact most of the season, that is what the opposition has been doing. The opposition knows all about Morgan’s special gift and he is not afraid to use it for his team.

Springstead High School Football coach Michael Garofano described one of the two big special team’s plays of the game, as a roller coaster ride of emotions.

“We were kicking off from their 45-yard line and 99 times out of 100, he would put it through the back end of the end zone. He missed it, it was like a golf shot. He just clunked it,” Garofano said. “ I saw it and said, ‘Oh Boy!’ I know how dynamic of a player Morgan is.”

Morgan waited for the kick, as the ball wobbled through the balmy night air. Then the football fell out of the air, down to the turf. The football bounced up and Morgan slapped the ball back down onto the grass of the field, he picked the ball up and then the excitement erupted.

With the football secure, Morgan moved to the left and he was at an angle and then he made a move that brought the rest of the fans from both sides to their feet as they watched, a video-game-like move that left the defender reaching around to pick up his uniform, his shoes and his pads from the grass field.

Morgan navigated the rest of the field as it opened up and then he just ran into the end zone with a 92-yard easy sprint, untouched for the score.

A play for the Sharks that should have found themselves with some brand new confidence in their offense, with their defense, as they score a touchdown that found the Sharks trailing the Eagles by two points.

Then biggest play of the game unfolded in front of the Sharks and Johns.

A 78-yard kickoff return by Eagles running back Anthony Alexis and the thought of making a comeback was erased right out of the equation for the Sharks.

“Anthony’s kickoff return was great and of course I was happy with the result,” Garofano said. “They were getting some momentum, they were getting field position, they were scoring and then the momentum turned with the kick return, it was unbelievable. He was a couple of inches from our sideline, there were three guys there and then someone had a key block to wall off and he just turned on the burners.” 

Johns took the blame for the kickoff return for the touchdown.

“Big play, the kickoff return for the touchdown, that was my fault,” Johns said. “We have some kids that were down and I threw a kid in there. He really didn’t know his responsibility, which is not to let anybody outside, between him and the sideline nothing gets by him but that is my fault and I should’ve not done that.” 

During the game, it felt like some progress was being made by the Sharks’ offense and there were some special moments by the defense but the Sharks are creating too much of a struggle for themselves.

An area that does need to be addressed is the amount of penalties that the Sharks have accumulated. Especially the penalties that have taken the Sharks out of good field position, stop drives and the ones that have removed points from the scoreboard.

“At the end of the day, I think it is penalties,” Johns said. “We had two touchdowns come back. They got together and talked about it, one called defensive pass interference the other called offensive pass interference and then down here they called one back. I’d be willing to bet that we had more offense production, we were moving the ball up and down the field.” 

Johns also said that the defense improved and that they did not allow a touchdown in the second half. Unfortunately, the defense is not immune to the plague of penalties being called on the Sharks. There were too many infractions that extended the opposition’s possession with the ball.

This is one part of the game that Johns said that he will clean up, because you can’t win games with these little things adding up to one big thing.

Continuing to look for some help, Johns has reached out and into the Junior Varsity team to add some depth to his roster. That is a good move for the future because it gives some valuable experience for young players, which is going to help the Sharks in the long term.

Next week, Nature Coast Tech will find out what it’s like to be away from the comfortable surroundings of the Shark Tank. The Sharks will board the armada of buses and take their first road trip of the season.

Their destination will be to the bright lights of the city of Wesley Chapel, to face the 3-0, Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls, Friday night, Sept 13, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Finding the answers to cure the problem of penalties being called and enforced against the Sharks, finding some depth for the roster and being creative on offense are steps in the right direction for Nature Coast Tech High School.

Going toward the right direction is a positive move for Johns but it does not make the bitter sting of defeat feel any better, because the only balm for that – is a win!

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