by MEL SUITER
BROOKSVILLE, Fla. --- According to the calendar, it is Halloween time!
That time of year for a good scare. Friday night October 25, 2019 had all the right ingredients to usher in a night for trick or treat!
Gigantic gray storm clouds suddenly appeared like ghosts threatening in the sky above Hernando High School's Tom Fischer Stadium. As the storm clouds drifted from the east changing shape like a shape-shifter, they covered the sliver of moon that looked like it was winking at the earth. From what seemed to be right around the corner, a barking stray dog at first was a solo performance, but this one dog started a chorus of howling hound dogs that echoed across the neighborhood. It was perfect for setting the mood for the night.
Hernando High School ambushed Nature Coast Tech and defeated the Sharks 20-7, and with the victory, the Leopards have a better chance of playing in the state of Florida class 5A football tournament and extending their football season.
Hernando High School offense played with a passion that had not been seen by the Leopards’ football coach Robert Kazmier this season. He said that it was the best game of the season that his team has played; might have been the best game of his coaching career.
“Our coaching staff, we stuck together and it has been a tough season. When you lose that many close games that you really should be winning... We were better than any team that we have played except for Lake Gibson. Losing those close games, we were killing ourselves with mistakes,” Kazmier said. “We played a complete game tonight, no turnovers. minimal penalties and we played a whole game.”
The running attack was featured all night for the Leopards. They attacked the Sharks' defense, but there was a little help delivered by the Sharks. Nature Coast committed a lot of infractions of the rules according to the same officiating crew who officiated the September 13 game at Wiregrass Ranch.
The penalties that were called extended some of the possession of the football for the Leopards and took away time of possession for the Sharks, a hurdle that was tough to overcome for the Sharks.
The chance for the Sharks to get back into the game came midway in the third quarter but due to a mistake that Nature Coast Tech made at a critical time, it was just too much to bear because the Sharks were unable to score a touchdown.
With the ball sitting on the Hernando High School 1-yard line, second down, the Sharks broke the huddle and lined up in the wildcat formation and Dedric Hall waiting for the direct snap.
The ball was snapped by Sharks' junior center, Austin Aliotta -- who did something for the first time all season -- he snapped the ball over Hall’s head and as the ball sailed through the falling rain drops the football landed 8-yards behind Hall.
The crowd raised as one with the excitement of cheers descended down toward the field, as they watch the race for the ball between Hall and the entire Leopard defensive line and a couple of linebackers. Hall retreated quickly, found the ball and fell down on it to keep it away from the Leopards.
Hall and the rest of the players rose up from the pile and looked for a piece of yellow cloth on the ground soaking up the rainwater from the football field, there was none.
With the ball resting on the 10-yard line, Nature Coast Tech High School football coach Cory Johns called a time out to find a play for a fourth down and goal-to-go situation.
With time disappearing in the third quarter, Sharks' quarterback Fabian Burnett placed his team in the formation called and then he called out the signals. The ball was snapped into Burnett’s hands, he faded to his left, with the Leopards' defense in pursuit and closing fast toward Burnett. He briefly saw, Hall come open in the end zone.
When the ball left Burnett’s hand, it looked bad because the wet ball slipped out from his hand. The pass wobbled through the wet-night air and fell into the waiting arms of a Hernando High School defensive back.
After the game, Johns addressed his team in the end zone, he was concerned with his players' ability to stay calm because this is a rival and an emotional game. Johns did like the fact that this team stayed in the game and showed some tenacity against the Leopards. They did not quit on themselves or their teammates and that is one of the team improvements that was made by the Sharks this season.
“We accomplished our goals as District Champions. That’s why I kind of think that this was a trap game. We’ve beaten everybody they had trouble with or lost to and I think that they got a little overconfident. We just didn’t finish,” Johns said, before leaving the end zone. “We had four or five penalties that continued their drives and that took time off the clock. We had a touchdown called back, we had a lot of yards of offense but we just couldn’t finish drives.”
The regular season is now a memory and now for the Sharks, they will wait for the pairings to be announced.
Nature Coast Tech High School will have the bye Friday Nov 1, and Johns said that his coaching staff and his players will continue to work with preparations for the next game but there will be some time for the Sharks to rest and let those nagging injuries heal.
“Maybe we will take a day off,” Johns said, and then he smiled. “Try to get healthy and try to figure out who we are going to play. We might not know until next week. If we know we start to prepare for them.”
Johns and the Sharks have worked hard this season to be able to cope with and get through the adversity of a high school football season.
There was a lot of misfortune this season for the Sharks, with injuries that forced Johns to seek help from the junior varsity squad. There was the suspension of defensive back Kinyatah Morgan for making a football play against Wiregrass Ranch High School.
With learning the ability to overcome adversity by the Sharks; make no mistake about this one fact, Nature Coast Tech High School is this season’s 5A District 8 champions and that is no trick but - a sweet treat!