By MEL SUITER
INVERNESS, Fla. --- As the tropical storm approached the city of Inverness, inside the famous Citrus Bowl — the home of Citrus High School football — the rain descended, and so did the Hurricanes as they fell from the ranks of the undefeated.
Nature Coast Technical High School remains at the top of the 5A-District 8, undefeated in the conference and took a giant step at capturing the District 8 Championship by defeating Citrus High School 39-14, spoiling the Hurricanes’ Senior Night celebration.
All phases of the Sharks football team were on display to witness for the large enthusiastic, soaked Citrus High School crowd, braving the constant rain.
The offense was balanced with Sharks quarterback Fabian Burnett guiding his team down the soggy field.
The offensive line pass blocking scheme protected Burnett, they opened up the line of scrimmage by being physical, allowing running backs Lenkel Smith, Anthony Trepen and Dedric Hall to do what they do best — run with the ball!
When the defense stepped off the bus they were a focused group, as they marched together onto the football field ready to take care of business against the Hurricane offense.
The game plan was to let the defensive ends pinch the edges of the line of scrimmage and then create a game of chase between Citrus High School quarterback Connor Bishop against the Sharks defense.
Even in a shotgun formation, Bishop would be chased out of the pocket, the Sharks' rush created too many quick throws by Bishop, the football would skid along the turf creating a spray of water like a geyser and he was sacked three times.
The frustration appeared on Bishop’s face when he took off his helmet walking toward his team’s sideline. It was a miserable long rainy night for Bishop and for the Hurricane offense trying to evade the school of hungry Sharks surrounding him.
“It was tough, they are very, very physical team,” Citrus High School football coach Robert O’Brien said after the game. “We had a lot of adversity and we didn’t respond very well. A lot of things happened, we made mistakes, we had penalties, I made bad calls. We were never able to respond to those mistakes.”
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Sharks wasted no time getting the ball across the goal line. The scoring drive went 80 yards, completed in three plays featuring Burnett and his quick 70-yard sprint for the touchdown.
Before the fashionably late arriving crowd could find there seat and pop open the umbrella, the Sharks were in the process of making the Hurricanes fans even more uncomfortable than sitting on wet cement in the pouring rain.
Nature Coast Tech High School football coach Cory Johns didn’t mind the rain, he didn’t mind the small celebration after the game by the players and by his assistant coaches and he surely didn’t mind the final score.
“This is how I thought we were capable of playing if somehow we could put everything together and everybody be together,” Johns said. “We had a lot of penalties some of them we can control and others we can’t and we turn the ball over that allowed them to score that touchdown. If we can hang on to the football we have a chance to play with anybody.”
Early in the football season, Johns told those who were listening that his defense is a group with solid football players that they will only be better at the end of the season.
Johns was right in the description of his defense. They have improved with every passing week of the football season and the improvement is evident on the football field.
The defense for the Sharks have survived the adversity with linebacker Kinyatah Morgan’s mid-season suspension and have also endured the injury of defensive end Andre Dillard.
Morgan is the heart of the squad, Dillard is the soul of the defense and the rest of the defense is just a group of players that are physical, that they work hard at improving their game and that makes the opposition nervous trying to find a game plan that is successful against the Sharks.
The defense for the Sharks is a physical squad but what makes that physical play even better, is the addition of the speed that this defense possesses. They can load up the box and they will hunt the opposing ball carrier down like a pack of Sharks.
“They are all veterans. They understand what we are trying to do. They did a great job!” Johns said. “The things we did all week, we really only had one mental mistake on defense. I thought, physical errors I can live with, mental errors, I can’t, and we didn't have many of those tonight.”
The next game for Nature Coast Tech High School is another road game and it will be a rival game. A night filled with high-octane emotion and with high expectations for the Sharks as they face Hernando High School, Friday October 25, starting at 7:30 p.m.
If the Sharks can defeat Hernando High School, the 5A-District 8 title is all their own, they will not have to share the title and the season will continue with state football tournament action.
Johns did not mind the rain, the players didn’t mind the rain and the fans that made the trip didn’t mind the rain either-the weather was perfect and in 5A-District 8 football - so are the Sharks!