Preseason football notebook: Central drops shootout

Photography by Alice Mary Herden and Cheryl Clanton

BROOKSVILLE – Based on the results of Friday night’s preseason classic, Central won’t have any problems putting points on the board. Whether it can outscore the opposition is another matter.
Hosting Clermont-East Ridge in an exhibition, the Bears were repeatedly burned by big plays, canceling out a spectacular performance by running back De’Vonta Smith in a 45-26 defeat.
“I think we played hard. We were facing a team that’s a 7A program with double the amount of kids in their school than us,” Central head coach Chris Sands said. “Offensively, we played great. We’re scoring 30 points against a defense that has six kids with Division I offers. That’s hard to do.
“That’s why we scheduled a team like this. We wanted to see where we are mentally rather than just physically. We want to see how they take this, facing a team with four receivers with all D-I offers that can run and do all that stuff. We wanted to see that and that’s what we saw. And we competed, and that’s what it’s all about. When we go out there and compete, we can play with anyone.”

 Bears De'vonta Smith scores the first touchdown against East Ridge defense during Friday Nights Game at Central High. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

The Bears, who went 3-7 last season, actually forced the Knights (7-4 in 2015) into a punt on their first possession. However, a Central player erroneously touched the ball, allowing East Ridge to recover.
With a second chance starting at the Bear 20-yard line, East Ridge cashed in on a 30-yard field goal by Thomas Leo.
Central bounced right back, handing the ball to Smith five straight plays totaling 68 yards, the last five on a touchdown run that put the Bears in front 7-3 at the 4:48 mark of the opening quarter.
The Knights needed just two plays from scrimmage to go back ahead, as Simmian Mitchell turned around right end and raced 55 yards to the end zone.
Mitchell added a similar-looking 50-yard touchdown run on the final play of the first quarter, and Jehvaughn Curtis caught a 38-yard scoring strike from BeSean McCray to open up a 21-7 advantage midway through the second.
From that point on, the two teams practically exchanged touchdowns in a contest heavy on penalties yet light on defense.
For the visitors, it was Mitchell who did most of the damage. He caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from McCray shortly before halftime, then added a 34-yard scoring run in the third. On just 10 carries, he totaled 177 yards.
McCray additionally threw a 64-yard touchdown to Tyree Baptiste and ran for a 30-yard score after Central cut the lead to 33-26 on a Smith 1-yard run with 3:11 left in the third quarter.
“If we tackle, we’ll be a successful team. If we don’t, we’re going to lose football games,” Sands said. “We can’t score with everyone. Yeah we’re going to score a lot of points, yeah we have one of the best running backs in the state. But we can’t score that many. So we just have to block and tackle, and we’ll be fine.”
As a junior a year ago, Smith rushed for 2,193 yards, the fifth-highest total in the state, and added 19 touchdowns. In this one, he amassed 227 yards on 28 carries to go along with four scores.
“I think I played good, but I couldn’t do it without my fullbacks, Kelvonte Roberts, Nick Adele, and my O-line especially,” Smith said. “They were working. They were getting a good enough push for me to have breaks and score touchdowns.”
Next Friday the games start to count, as county-rival Springstead travels to the Bears’ Den.
“I think it was a good game overall by us, considering that they’re a 7A team,” Smith said. “We’ve got to clean some stuff up on defense. But other than that, we played a hard game. We came out and we fought, we gave it our all.
“I’m proud of my team for their effort. We’re still putting pieces together with the new transfers and everything. But other than that, we ain’t going to trip on this game. We got Springstead next week, that’s what we’re working on. That’s what we’re worried about right now.”
Three county teams played preseason games on Thursday, with two of them pulling out a victory.

Ocala-West Port travels to Hernando High for the Preseason Kick off Friday Night. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

The most dramatic triumph came at Hernando, where the Leopards scored on a touchdown pass from Scott Bierwiler to Noah Batten with seven seconds remaining for a 13-12 victory over Ocala-West Port.
“It means nothing for our record, obviously, but it’s very important for our kids to see us hang with a bigger school; compete, persevere, keep fighting and have it pay off,” Hernando head coach Bill Vonada said. “I told the guys, ‘Enjoy the ride home, but tomorrow you’re 0-0.’”
Nature Coast soundly defeated visiting Wiregrass Ranch, 27-7. Willie Coffey, Michael Weston, Brian Haygood and T.J. Owens all ran for touchdowns for the Sharks, who built a 21-7 lead by halftime. The defense recorded a shutout, as the Bulls’ lone score came on an interception return.
“I like what we saw from the offensive line. They’re showing a lot of promise,” Nature Coast head coach Justin Worden said. “And I like that we didn’t have any one person that we leaned on. That’ll help make us a little different and tougher to defend going on from here.”
Springstead suffered a 24-13 home loss to Hudson. The Cobras rallied from a 13-10 deficit in the second quarter and the Eagles’ sputtered offensively. Demetrius Barry scored a touchdown, while Nathan Sims and Randy Morgan produced in the running game.
“Sloppy at times, too many penalties. But I felt like the effort was good. The intensity was good,” Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. “Just a few missed tackles, a few penalties that hurt us in the end. A couple turnovers.
“We watched film (Friday), kind of learned from our mistakes. Learned that the only team that can beat us is ourselves. Our drives basically were stopped by our penalties, by our interception. So we’ve got to avoid the penalties, the turnovers and we’ll be golden.”
On Friday, Weeki Wachee collected a 6-0 win at Fivay in a game shortened by lightning midway through the third quarter. Montae Bostick scored the game’s lone touchdown on a 9-yard run on the Hornets’ initial drive.
“The defense played awesome. That was definitely a nice thing to see,” Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. “Offensively, we had a good first drive, went down and scored on the first drive. Then we laid an egg other than that. Way too many missed opportunities.
“It’s a win. Shortened or not, we scored more points than they did. We wish we got a full game in, but we’ll take a win.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

Hernando High wins over Ocala-West Port during the Preseason match up at Hernando High Thursday Night. Photo by Cheryl Clanton
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