By MEL SUITER
Hernando Sun Sports Reporter
NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. —- Fall in the state of Florida there is nothing like it!
Friday evening, October 4, the weather is supposed to be fall like, there is supposed to be cool temperatures, maybe a cool breeze but that kind of autumn weather is for some other place and not for the shore line of the world-famous Moon Lake.
Arriving at River Ridge High School be ready for a hike!
It is a long walk from the parking lot to the seats of Jack Valentine Sport Complex, the stroll takes you through a maze of passageways, a couple of tunnels and then across a swamp that includes a warning sign please do not feed the alligator!
River Ridge High School started the party early and improved their overall record to 4-2, the Royal Knights defeated Nature Coast Tech High School 42-28, ending the modest two-game winning streak by the Sharks and bruising the overall record to 3-4, but the good news is that the Sharks are still undefeated in the district.
The Royal Knights used the combination of making the big play, creating turnovers and scoring points from the extra chance given by the Sharks’ miscue.
River Ridge created the first touchdown with a 70-yard kickoff return by junior Cole Castro, that sent a strong shock wave through the Sharks and stunned them before the late arriving crowd survived the long walk and found their seats.
“Our guys were charged up for tonight, we had a great week of practice,” River Ridge High School football coach Ryan Benjamin said after the game. “We knew that we needed to win Monday through Thursday for a chance to compete with this team because they are a great team.”
With their heads still spinning from the cold slap of the touchdown, Nature Coast tried to settle down and open up the playbook and unfold the game plan.
The second offensive series for the Sharks came courtesy of the defense, as they forced a Royal Knight turnover giving the Sharks an extra possession, in the first quarter.
The offense for the Sharks could not turn the recovery of the Royal Knight fumble into points.
Lining up in the Wildcat formation, the Sharks’ junior running back Dedric Hall fumbled the ball into the waiting arms of Royal Knight linebacker Anthony Russo. He scooped up the ball and ran into the end zone for the score.
Before the ice had a chance to cool in the beverage and create the moisture on the cup, before the slices of pepperoni pizza could be consumed, the Sharks were looking at a 13-point deficit.
Nature Coast Tech High School football coach Cory Johns watched his team faltering in the first quarter from the pressure from the Royal Knights.
Johns is like any other football coach, at any level, they all hate turnovers. Coaches know that turnovers are dangerous. A turnover can change the momentum of the game in an instant of a microsecond and if those turnovers produce points-that is trouble!
“Having the ball ripped out of your arms is unacceptable,” Johns said. “I am looking for senior leadership this week because right now I don’t see it.”
“Anytime you can get that momentum and keep that thing going it takes a lot of air from the other team,” Benjamin said. “We knew that it was going to be a battle and our goal was to come out and come out fast and that is what we did!”
The offense for the Sharks could not get the running game in sync because of the lack of consistency from the passing game.
That was a result of the strong defense being played by the Royal Knights. They were quicker off of the snap of the ball. Crossing the line of scrimmage and allowing linebacker support in the gaps which created chaos in the back field for the Sharks.
Both quarterbacks for the Sharks, Fabian Burnett and Vaughn Sykora could not get enough time to square up, find an open receiver and then step up and deliver any type of a pass.
A play called in the huddle was replaced by improvisation by either of Sharks’ quarterbacks, which did not have a chance of succeeding for the Sharks.
Finally in the second quarter, the Sharks got started on the scoreboard with their own special team touchdown.
Sharks’ running back and kick off specialist junior, Kinyatah Morgan continued to add to his touchdown total- pointing out the bad coaching decision to kick the ball to him.
Morgan watched the kick off float through the warm air before the ball hit the turf and bounced perfectly into his waiting arms. Catching the ball in stride, Morgan made one move to his right added a stutter step, the hole appeared and he disappeared from the Royal Knights arriving in the end zone untouched.
Morgan 75-yard sprint to the end zone suddenly created what Johns was hoping for, something that would generate some positive emotions and momentum.
With six minutes in the first half, Burnett found a crease in the Royal Knight defense in the second quarter and he ran 47 yards for a touchdown. The deficit was just seven points, going into the locker room at halftime.
“We started fast but in the middle we sputtered a little bit,” Benjamin said. “We had to compete four quarters to beat a team like Nature Coast. We have a lot of respect for those guys.”
The game became an extended trip for the Sharks in the second half, they scored 14 points in the fourth quarter but too many turnovers, a well prepared Royal Knight defense forced the Sharks offense into pressure situations and they made too many miscues.
Not able to score points in the third quarter, the Sharks were forced to try and do too much offensively. The pressure created by the Sharks produced ill-timed penalties. They struggled to establish an offense while looking far behind the chains.
It will be a tiring week of practice for the Sharks, as Johns prepares his team for the next game. Friday night, October 11, at home, inside the coziness of the Shark Tank beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Johns is questioning his team’s commitment to finish strong in the district and he is looking for team leadership from his seniors against Weeki Wachee High School and for the rest of the remaining football season as the Sharks drive toward the district championship.
After the game, the gator in the swamp was happy, Benjamin was happy and so were the River Ridge fans who wanted to dance all the way to the parking lot.
The players and coaches from Nature Coast High School endured the long walk to the parking lot.
Johns, his coaching staff and the players just boarded the buses found their seat, got comfortable for the long ride home. Reflecting about the game that just unfolded in front of them and for the extended journey home, there was no music playing, no players singing and – no win.