On Friday night of homecoming week, the Eagles downed the Hernando Leopards 28-13 at the Eagles’ Nest. The Leopards (2-5) continued to struggle to put points on the board while the Eagles (4-2) got back on track after coming up short in a shootout against Wiregrass Ranch last week. Coach Garofano’s squad utilized a stingy second-half defense and a strong middle eight to put the visitors away in this edition of the oldest rivalry in Hernando County.
“I felt like we kept them around the first half between turnovers, giving up that big pass,” Coach Garofano said. “That’s very uncharacteristic of us. Then, the tackling has to get better. The second touchdown they had on that drive, we missed several tackles. They did a good job. They’re well-coached. Coach Scargle does a great job. I respect him as a coach. Great guy, great program.”
After an early first-quarter fumble by the Purple and Gold, the Eagles put the ball in RB Connor Mccazzio’s hands, and he busted off a long touchdown run on the ensuing drive. Hernando would keep pace early when they scored their own long touchdown on a pass from QB Michael Saltsman to Senior Leandre Wright. All this happened within the first 5:01 of game time.
Both defenses would hold firm for a few drives with both offenses turning the ball over on downs once each. Then, on an eight-play drive early in the second frame, the Eagles punched it in from one yard out for the second of Mccazzio’s three touchdowns on the night. Coach Scargle’s squad would respond again with tremendous help from facemask and pass interference penalties by Springstead on back-to-back plays. They would cash that in from 25 yards out on a tackle-breaking run by RB John Capel III, but the visitors could not cap it off with a two-point conversion following another Eagles penalty on the PAT.
That is where the Red, White, and Blue’s excellence in the middle eight came in. This is the period of the game that includes the final four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the third quarter. In this case, it was more like the middle 12, but the argument is still the same. From 4:59 left in the second to 4:34 left in the third, the Eagles ran 25 plays to the Leopards’ 1. They also held the ball for all but 19 seconds of that span while scoring a pair of touchdowns to put the visitors on the ropes.
“That was huge,” said Coach Garofano. “…To really almost, right there put the game away because now we’re up a couple of scores, maybe you force them to be a little more one dimensional. That was the game really.”
Directly bisecting the two Springstead scores was halftime, the presentation of the homecoming court, and the awarding of a pair of scholarships. Miles Brown and Haley Sanchez were announced as homecoming king and queen, and both plan to attend the University of Florida for their respective degrees. Sanchez’s brother, Blake, who has served in the military the past couple of years, came home to surprise her as she crossed the field. Capel and Senior G Giovanni Chirinos were awarded 1,000-dollar scholarships at half time by Glory Days Grill in honor of the Burger Bowl.
The night was not all fun and games for the home team, though, as Coach Garofano was unhappy with his squad’s tackling. More so in the first half, the team settled in and started cleaning the issue up as the game wore on. In the second half, Springstead’s defense forced a turnover on downs, an interception, and arguably should have been credited with a forced fumble on an early fourth-quarter drive.
“We got to get better,” Coach Garofano said. “If we want to make a playoff run and we want to continue to win out this season, which we’re going to need to do, we have to tackle better. That was evident last week against Wiregrass, and it was evident tonight against Hernando was the tackling… So, definitely have to work on that if we want to. I felt second half, we did a lot better job definitely.”
Next week, the Leopards are set to host the South Sumter Raiders on Friday evening and they will hope to produce more offensively in the final stretch of the season. The Eagles will instead travel to take on Land O’ Lakes on Friday. Springstead looks to tackle better from the start when they face the Gators at 7:30.