ZEPHYRHILLS- If they thought not being able to play against Wiregrass Ranch in the home opener last week was bad enough, it wasn’t much more enjoyable for the Hernando Leopards entering Week 2 of the season.
The Leopards went into last Friday’s contest against the Zephyrhills Bulldogs looking to put a stamp on the opening game and instead laid a proverbial egg. Hernando offensively and defensively made a myriad of mistakes that didn’t add up for a good result. Hernando couldn’t stop Zephyrhills running back Jaylin Thomas, who rushed for 141 yards on five carries en route to a 43-2 loss at Bulldog Stadium. “That was one of the worst starts to a game I’ve ever been a part of,” Hernando Head Coach Earl Garcia III said. “But that’s how the ball bounces sometimes. We’re not going to blame it on Covid. We’re not going to blame it on nothing. That’s on us and we’re going to fix it.”
It was a stark contrast for the Leopards compared to the beginning of the 2020 season when Hernando rolled off to a solid 2-0 start with wins over Crystal River and Weeki Wachee before losing its first game against rival Nature Coast.
The opening quarter of the game was what did the Leopards in right off the bat, as Thomas took back a punt for a touchdown and went 68 yards to pay dirt. Another long touchdown would ensue followed by a bad snap on a Leopards’ punt, which went out of the back of the endzone for a safety. Though Hernando would get a safety on the very next Bulldogs’ series, that was the only scoring the Leopards would have all evening.
At the half, Hernando trailed 36-2 and most of the second half featured a running clock because of the mercy rule being in effect. The Leopards last lost a game by 41 points in the first game of the 2019 season when they lost to Lakeland Lake Gibson (41-0) in the home opener. That time was to a state title contending team. The Bulldogs could be a viable playoff team, but time will have to tell us that. Running back Jordan Williams rushed for a team-high 41 yards on 14 carries.
Now Hernando (0-1) will have to try and bounce back this week against an old rival in Pasco (0-1), who started off the season getting thumped by Nature Coast 42-0. It’s not an easy slate of games upcoming for the Leopards whatsoever, as they will face a winnable game versus Inverness Citrus before taking on Nature Coast, The Villages and Springstead. Kathleen and Wiregrass Ranch also still remain on the regular season slate down the line.
The meeting between the Leopards and the Pirates is the 62nd in the series and Hernando leads the all-time series 34-25-2. The last time the Leopards had a win in the series was back in 1999 and the Pirates have won 11 straight games against Hernando. Both teams are badly needing a win after season opening blowout losses.