The Hernando Leopards no doubt had one rough start to high school football season this year. It was downright heartbreaking with the team having to delay its season opener against Wiregrass Ranch due to coronavirus and then the following week opened up the season versus Zephyrhills and received a 43-2 thumping at the hands of the Bulldogs. Not quite the start anyone had envisioned for the Leopards in 2021.
But Leopards Head Coach Earl Garcia III promised after Hernando’s loss to Zephyrhills that his staff and players would right the ship in the next game versus Dade City Pasco and they did. Hernando (1-1) was able to secure a 35-0 win over the Pirates by giving their all, along with a suffocating defense. Now Hernando seems to be back on track and they will travel to Inverness Citrus to take on the Hurricanes on Friday.
The key to winning for the Leopards is simple and that’s being able to run the football effectively with running back Jordan Williams. Fact and point, Williams rushed 12 times for 40 yards, and the Leopards were blown out 43-2, but then the next game the tailback goes for 112 yards on 14 carries. When running the ball effectively, the Leopards always have a shot. Oh and also not turning over the ball and a few other things helps as well.
As for Hernando’s opponent, Citrus, the Hurricanes haven’t enjoyed the taste of a victory yet this season as they lost to Springstead (35-0) and Lecanto (40-24). On paper, it looks like the Hurricanes have had immense trouble stopping the run, as Springstead and Lecanto have both rushed for over 200 yards when facing the Hurricanes. This may bode well for the Leopards, as they continue to look towards getting Williams going in the ground game.
Using last year’s game as a potential barometer of what we could be looking at when it comes to a final score may not be the fairest thing to do, as Hernando’s team last year was a very experienced group. Though the core of the defense has returned and Williams could potentially be a 1,000-yard rusher, the Leopards rolled past the Hurricanes 44-6 in their meeting in 2020. Could that ultimately be a sign of things to come?
Hernando’s defense will need to focus on stopping running back Colton McNeely, who rushed for over 100 yards in the season opener versus Springstead. The Leopards’ defense is led by all-county linebacker Sam Sternberger, who is usually good for 10-plus tackles a game. If this defense can neutralize the Hurricanes’ run game, this contest could be a running clock sometime in the second half.
PREDICTION: Hernando 38, Inverness Citrus 6
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.