On Friday night at Tom Fisher Stadium, the football season unofficially kicked off for the Hernando Leopards. In a preseason matchup with the Clearwater Tornadoes, the visitors gave Hernando all they could handle in a 45-7 shellacking. Fortunately for the home team, it was not a part of their regular season schedule, and it gave the Leopards an opportunity to gauge where they are and what they need to work on going into this season. A team with dangerous speed that went 4-7 a year ago, Clearwater made an effective measuring stick for the Leopards, who are in year two of the John Scargle era and went 3-7 last season.
“Clearwater is a very talented team,” Coach Scargle said. “They got a lot of team speed. They are well-coached. So, it was a huge challenge for us. The good thing about playing them is we know where we are at. We know what we need to work on, and we know that we can improve in those areas. They just kind of took it to us tonight.”
The visitors did not wait long to show off their weapons, as the Tornadoes scored two touchdowns in the game’s opening quarter. For the home team, the first period was highlighted by an interception by Sam Jackson on Hernando’s 19-yard line when Clearwater was driving with a 7-0 lead. For the Tornadoes, one of several big plays of the evening came when WR Mike Wynn blew past the Hernando secondary for a 62-yard reception to give Clearwater the 14-0 lead heading into quarter number two.
The next twelve minutes played out much in the same way the first twelve did as Clearwater continued to expand their lead. With 8:17 left before halftime, a play happened that served as a microcosm of the night. After the Tornadoes were stopped as they were approaching the redzone, Kicker Stephano Calderon lined up to attempt a 50-yard kick for the visitors. The kicker booted the ball up, the ball smacked the crossbar of the uprights, and it bounced through for three points. Almost everything went right for Thor Jozwiak and the Tornadoes on Friday. They would go on to score a touchdown seconds before the half ended and seconds after the next half began to put the game away early.
Hernando would manage to score a 45-yard rushing touchdown on a fake handoff by Quarterback Michael Saltsman early in the fourth, but that would be some of the only fireworks for the Purple and Gold that night. After the game, Coach Scargle discussed some of the areas he wants his squad to work on moving forward.
“We really got to protect the passer a little bit better,” said Hernando’s head coach. “So, we got to work on our pass [protection], work on our run blocking in the offense. Defensively, we got to tackle better. We got to get more guys to the ball, better angles, better pursuit on the tackling. So, I think if we work on those things, we are going to improve. We got to work a little on our pass coverage in the secondary, but I think we’ll be okay.”
The Leopards will look to make the necessary adjustments with better pass protection, tackling, and secondary play in their season-opening matchup against the Hudson Cobras. The gridiron matchup, which will be a blackout neon game, will kick off at 7:30 on Friday at Hernando High School.