On Friday night, the Hernando Leopards (4-6) ran over and around the Weeki Wachee Hornets (4-5) in a dominating 34-12 victory at Tom Fisher Stadium. Coming into the final game of the regular season, the home team’s Senior RB, John Capel III, needed 365 rushing yards to eclipse the 1500-yard mark. A herculean task to ask of any running back in a single game, but not impossible. Leopards Head Coach John Scargle proceeded to feed him the ball and the offensive line created gaping holes for Capel to run through. This led to the athletic back amassing 375 rushing yards on the evening and a grand total of 1510 yards for the entire season.
“Very proud of these guys,” Coach Scargle said. “Proud of the seniors. They had a long season, worked hard, came out tonight, took care of business. We preached it all week, ‘we got to finish this strong.’ John Capel went over 300 yards rushing; think he broke the single-game rushing record for Hernando County. So, it was a big night for him and the offensive line.
Hernando received the ball to start the contest and it was off to the races immediately. Capel III started the drive off with back-to-back runs of 19 yards before Junior QB Michael Saltsman converted a fourth down to Senior WR Leandre Wright. The receiver was wide open in the right corner of the endzone for a touchdown. A quick Weeki Wachee three-and-out gave Hernando the ball back with little time run off the clock.
On the Leopards’ second possession, Capel added a massive chunk of his yardage by breaking off five separate runs of 10 yards or more. Hernando utilized the 10-play drive and a second fourth down conversion in as many possessions to take a 13-0 lead with 2:26 remaining in the opening frame. With his 11-yard scamper to paydirt, Capel passed 100 yards in the first quarter and scored his first of four touchdowns on the evening. While the talented running back was running around and running through defenders on his historic night, the offensive line deserves immense praise for how pivotal the linemen’s performances were.
“They were,” said Coach Scargle. “They were definitely the key to the run offense that we had, pushing our rushing. I think our quarterback had almost 100 yards as well. Defense gave up a couple of long passes, but other than that, they played pretty solid.”
The Leopards honored a variety of alumni at halftime as they inducted them into the Hernando High School 2023 Athletic Hall of Fame. Wanda Griffin, Jill Penderghest-Marrero, David Pirkle, Tim Woodford, and the entire 1997 state champion cross-country team were introduced as the inductees during the intermission. Griffin was a two-sport athlete (basketball, softball) and helped the Leopards win the 1984 state championship en route to a 28-1 season. Woodford was a multi-sport athlete (football, soccer, track) and won a district championship with the Leopards’ track team, among other accolades.
While Hernando was opening up massive lanes and dominating the trenches on offense throughout the evening, the defense also played well outside of two long pass plays. These gave Weeki Wachee their only two scores of the night and the first of the two appeared to be a busted coverage where Junior WR Alex Wilson slipped behind the defense for the wide-open touchdown.
Late into the contest, when Hernando was leading 28-12, Capel finally broke the 1500-yard mark on a 34-yard run up the middle with 7:44 left in regulation. That would prove to be the final run of the game and of the season for the imposing running back, who is the leader in rushing and total yards in Division 2S, District 9.
This was the final game of the season for both squads, but it is never too early to look ahead to next year. While the cross-county rivals each had 4-win campaigns in 2023, every team the Leopards lost to this season had a winning record except for Lecanto (5-5). Hernando also has some talented players returning, including Saltsman and electric Freshman WR/DB Kamoni Dotson. Coach Scargle and the Leopards are excited to hit the weight room in preparation for 2024.
“We really got to live in the weight room,” the Hernando coach said. “We got to get bigger, stronger, a little tougher. We have a good young group of players, so I’m looking forward to working with them in the weight room.”