Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
BROOKSVILLE- Nature Coast winning another district title?
At one point during this 2019 campaign, it didn’t seem like the Sharks would even get into the postseason- it was more of the biggest question on the docket. Sitting at 1-3 through four games, much doubt had been cast on the viability of the Sharks getting back into the playoffs as a district champion.
Heading into the fifth game of the regular season against rival Central, it had looked like the Sharks’ season was already in shambles. After a resounding victory over Tarpon Springs East Lake to start off the year, Nature Coast continued to go on a three game losing streak, which included losses to Bushnell South Sumter, Springstead and Wesley Chapel Wiregrass Ranch.
What was most concerning about all three of the losses? The Sharks looked totally overmatched in each of the games, with the Raiders shutting out Nature Coast 33-0, Springstead finally beating them for the first time in years and Wiregrass Ranch’s sophomore quarterback Rocco Becht putting up huge passing numbers.
All those variables led to the possibility that the Sharks’ reign of dominance and winning another district championship looked much in doubt heading into the midway point of the season. That’s when the turnaround started to take place when Nature Coast faced rival Central. A dominating 49-6 win over the Bears was exactly what the doctor ordered for Cory Johns’ group and that game spilled into the rest of the season.
Despite losing games to New Port Richey River Ridge on the road and to Hernando, the Sharks were able to pull it altogether against district foes. Nature Coast rolled to big wins over Crystal River, Weeki Wachee and Inverness Citrus. All they needed were those wins to go ahead and give themselves the Class 5A, District 7 championship and now the Sharks are back in the big dance.
Now they will face a very familiar opponent in Inverness Citrus, whose only loss of the 2019 season was to Nature Coast, as the Hurricanes finished 9-1 on the season. The Hurricanes are currently going through some turnover at the end of the season, as Robert O’Brien stepped down as the team’s head coach just a week before the regular season had concluded. The surprising turn of events won’t affect the Sharks much- as it will be business as usual for Nature Coast.
The Sharks run the football for an average of just over 190 yards per game, as the team has rushed for a total of 1,929 yards combined. Leading the way in that department is quarterback Fabian Burnett, who leads all rushers with 544 yards. Nature Coast also has three other running backs who boast 300 yards or more on the season, including Lenkal Smith, Dedric Hall and Kinyatah Morgan. All three runners have been contributors at one point or another and have helped ease away the loss of Michael Weston from last season.
Burnett will need to be efficient in the passing game as well, with the right-hander throwing for just over 800 yards and six touchdowns this season. Make no mistake about it, the Sharks are a run-first football team and they will need to control the ground game if they want to win this rematch from the regular season.
Leading Nature Coast on the defensive side of the football is linebacker Michyl Shaw, who made 131 tackles during the regular season and he will he joined by fellow backers Anthony Houston (122 tackles) and Jaxson Morris (117 tackles). All three will he relied upon to keep Citrus’ offense at bay on Friday night. Question is, can Nature Coast keep up the momentum they built in the second half of the season? Only time will tell us if the Sharks were able to fully rebound from the early season hiccups.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.