On Friday night, the Weeki Wachee Hornets (4-4) hung on to defeat the Central Bears (2-7) by a tight 20-14 score at the Hornets’ Nest. After the game, the team proudly posed for pictures with the Hexam Bowl trophy. The first quarter saw Central have slightly more success than Weeki moving the ball early but failing to log any points until the second half. After struggling to move the ball in the first quarter, the home team built a two-score lead before hanging on for the hard-fought victory late. Despite an up-and-down season in the win-loss column, Hornets Head Coach Jonathan Malandrucco is pleased with his team’s performance and development up to this point.
“I think we’re performing much better than expected,” Coach Malandrucco said. “I mean we got a bunch of freshmen; we got sophomores. We have five seniors on the field, really five seniors on the whole team. So, you got to think. We only dressed 27 kids. So, we’re down this year and we’re still putting out some decent football. We do make some mistakes, but I’d say they’re playing very well for what they’ve been through and what we’ve got.”
The two squads were getting a feel for the matchup in the opening frame as there were only a total of three first downs (two for Central, one for Weeki Wachee) and zero points scored. The Hornets settled in during the second quarter, but only after they threw an interception. That might sound counterintuitive, but Weeki’s defense went to work after sophomore QB Richard Hanshaw’s pass was picked by CB/WR Alvin Cortes less than three minutes into the period.
Two of Central’s whopping 18 committed penalties came at this moment. Both were for illegal shifts on back-to-back plays for the Bears. This helped Weeki’s defense to force the visitors backward for a grand total of -11 yards on the drive. A nightmare scenario for the Bears, penalties ravaged a plethora of possessions throughout the night.
It was Halloween weekend after all.
A less-than-ideal punt set the Hornets’ offense up with a fantastic field position at the Central 40-yard line. A six-play drive aided by a facemask penalty by the Bears ended with a quarterback sneak by Hanshaw to give the Hornets the 6-0 lead after an unsuccessful two-point conversion.
To compound the positives for Weeki and the negatives for Central, the Hornets chose to execute an onside kick that worked to perfection. Navy and White clad players failed to get to the short bouncing kick in time and the home team fell on the ball. A seven-play scoring drive was capped off with a five-yard slant over the middle from Hanshaw to junior WR/DB/QB Alex Wilson. As evidenced by the designations preceding his name, the receiver played multiple roles which even included logging time as a kicker on Friday night.
“[Wilson’s] helped out a lot, but really we just have so many kids that have to play so many different positions,” Coach Malandrucco said. “So, it’s kind of like this kid’s here, he’s helping out. It’s not his position, but he’s doing okay. So, I think that’s a lot, but I think that Alex Wilson and Richard Hanshaw surely have come up this year.”
The touchdown put the Hornets up 12-0 and ate up another four minutes of clock to leave 36 seconds on the board before halftime. The home team had possessed the ball for nearly the entire second quarter, stolen possession from the Bears, scored on consecutive drives, left essentially no time on the clock, and were set to receive the ball after half. It was a dream scenario.
The game looked to be on the verge of getting out of hand at the midpoint, but Central kept it close coming out of the break. This was due to the Hornets’ own nightmare that was brewing – turnovers. The turnover bug bit the Black and Green for the second time in the contest and it shifted the momentum and tone of the game significantly.
On the second play out of the intermission, Hanshaw threw a pass over the middle that was intercepted by MLB Ryan Wood and returned to the Hornets’ 20-yard line. The turnover robbed the Hornets of an opportunity to begin putting the game out of reach. The defense would bow up again, though. They held the visitors to roughly nine yards and a turnover on downs on a junior OL/DL Tyler Ciccio tackle on fourth to give the ball back to Weeki’s offense.
The offense would fail to put together a successful drive again and this back-and-forth set Central up in plus territory on the Hornets’ 40-yard line. On the very next play, junior QB Talyn Poole returned from an earlier injury to complete a pass just short of a first down to junior Emaurien Davis. The play was not done, though. Before he went down, Davis fumbled, and the ball was recovered by sophomore RB Timothy Gaynor who ran it all the way to the endzone.
Weeki responded a couple of drives later with a quick two-play drive. It started with a 43-yard pass to Senior WR/OLB Adrian Cabezudo and was capped off by a one-yard run to the left sideline by junior HB/OLB Eryk Marcuccio. After the onside kick failed to travel far enough on their ensuing kickoff, Central was set up at the Hornets 45 and immediately responded on the next play. Gaynor ran 45 yards breaking tackles down the sideline and found paydirt. It was now a six-point game with under a minute remaining in the third.
Weeki Wachee’s Hanshaw would throw one more interception in the Bears’ endzone on a short drive that was set up by their own pick. The turnover thrown to Central’s Freshman CB/WR Josiah Ojeda eliminated the chance for the home team to recreate the breathing room they enjoyed earlier in the contest. Central penalties and Malandrucco’s defense would show up again on the next drive deep in Hornet territory. Junior WR/ILB Brock Rosario logged the interception for the home team on the 17-yard line on 4th and 21 with 2:08 remaining. Central would have one more opportunity on offense but were unable to punch it in thanks to another crucial sideline infraction penalty. Weeki got the ball back after a turnover on downs and kneeled the game out in victory formation.
Moving ahead to the final game of the regular season, Coach Malandrucco admits that his team is looking for an identity they had lost earlier in the season and wants to get “better throwing the football.” They will have one last chance to establish their identity when they travel to take on the intra-county Hernando Leopards on Friday. Central will hope to end their season with some semblance of momentum as they face the Umatilla Bulldogs on the road next week.