By Mel Suiter
Hernando Sun Sports Reporter
Wesley Chapel, Fla. --- It was definitely ‘Friday the 13th’ on the football field!
Once again, on a warm Friday evening complete with storm clouds gathering and marching slowly across the sky, chasing away the sun as it dipped beyond the horizon. Like those gray clouds that were collecting above in the sky, on the football field below there was a storm brewing. It was Friday the 13th no less.
Wiregrass Ranch High School remains undefeated this season by rolling past Nature Coast Tech High School, Friday night, Sept.13, 2019 by the score of 34-7, the Sharks are now 1-3, in the season and ready to leave behind, the out of district portion of their schedule.
Some emotional changes were made before the game against the Bulls, new players trying to understand the new playbook, understanding their new teammates and getting used to their new coach.
“Our defense scheme is sound, we did what we wanted to do and take away Kevin Walker,” Johns said. “Offense- we are really young called up some young guys from j.v. for the offensive line because of injuries. They are a good football team and for us to have two j.v. players starting on the offensive line, it is a big jump for them.”
With the young players on the field, comes inexperience and unawareness issues which will need to be tackled by Nature Coast Tech High School football coach Cory Johns.
Johns did address the problem with the offense and their ability to collect penalties, that would stall a drive, put the Sharks in bad field position but the back- breaker of all penalty - the one that takes away points from the scoreboard.
Johns and his coaching staff is dealing with the offensive penalties but now with young inexperienced players, that is a work in progress.
What the coaches know including Johns, is that turning the ball over is a receipt for disaster. Especially the interceptions that are returned to the end zone for touchdown.
Neither quarterback were immune to this issue against Wiregrass Ranch. Both quarterbacks for the Sharks, Vaughn Sykora and Fabian Burnett threw too many interceptions including Burnett’s interception that was returned for touchdowns and that was an emotional let down for the offense.
Johns describes his offense as being a balanced multiple-style offense. So far this season, this offense is not balanced and it is not producing the results that Johns is expecting.
Nature Coast Tech is blessed with players that have both the combination of speed and agility and at times, it is on display out on the football field.
Johns provides the offense with a scheme that is fun to watch in practice but on Friday night - it had not yet arrived with the team.
A successful running game begins at the offensive line and works together with their strength. Working as a cohesive unit to push the line of scrimmage behind the defense. Against the Bulls, the Sharks did not have the right amount of players, with any kind of varsity experience at the line of scrimmage.
Experience will help develop the young players at practice and during games but even Johns said against the Bulls, because of injury to his two senior tight ends, he had to start a tight end that is just 13 years old. Playing in his first varsity game, required him to get help from a tackle to assist him with his blocking assignments for running plays and with pass protection blocking.
Johns said that the defense was a solid squad and were doing well with the game plan against Wiregrass Ranch. The defense did force the Bulls into losing two fumbles and intercepted a pass but the offense could not take advantage of the extra possessions.
At the start of the second half, Wiregrass Ranch led the game by 13 points and both teams traded punts on the opening possessions.
After the Bulls intercepted another pass attempt by the Sharks, the emotion of the football game took a turn for the worse.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, Bulls halfback Andrew Salum had the ball, running hard and cutting through the line at full speed. He met senior linebacker Jaxson Morris and literally ran him over. Morris was lying on his back and holding onto Salum, slowing him down, then Salum lowered his head trying to pull away from Morris and planted the top of his helmet into the chest and arms of Kinyatah Morgan.
It was a violent impact that resulted in Salum falling to the ground and not moving. The medical staff and the coach rushed to the side of Salum to provide him with first aid.
The decision was not to move Salum off the field, the call was made to the Pasco County Fire Department and squad 26 arrived at the scene to assist Salum off of the field and transport him to a local hospital for observation.
The paramedics worked quickly and professionally, as they were placing the stretcher with Salum into the squad. Salum gave a thumbs-up, that he was okay.
During the medical attention that was being given to Salum, the referees huddled together and they made a decision to eject Kinyatah Morgan and then they escorted him from the game.
The ejection only added more fuel to the emotions already boiling over from the football fans standing and watching the proceedings from the field.
It was a move that the referee made, making sure that Morgan would be safe, with no retaliation. Wiregrass Ranch High School Athletic Director David Wilson said after the game that he will still have to file an incident report to the Florida High School Athletic Association because of the ejection.
“It was not a bad hit, we watched the film, the kid was on the ball. The kid dropped his head and our guy tackled him,” Johns said about Morgan’s tackle. “I hope that the FHSAA looks at it and realizes that it was just a football play.”
Football is a brutal game where there are collisions at a high rate of speed and played with emotion. At the end of the game every player that has played during the game will have bruises and there is blood stains on the uniform.
“It was a physical football game that is what it was,” Wiregrass Ranch football coach Mark Kantor said. “I saw him getting down, the kid hit him right in the face mask and he got that head slam on the ground. He had all of the range of motion, took him for some scans but he is alright.”
After Salum was transported from the field, the mood of the crowd and characteristics of the game changed drastically.
The crowd became angry because of the emotion from the hit absorbed by Salum.
Nature Coast Tech offense play became sloppy. There was no defensive intensity because all the players wanted to do was finish the game, board the bus for the ride and go home.
“In the second half, in my opinion the referees lost control of the game,” Johns said. “It just got out of hand.”
The meeting after the game took place inside a very small, smelly locker room, with the Sharks just needing a place to take a breath and to collect themselves. The opposition did not make the meeting a peaceful chance for the Sharks to regroup and board the bus.
“I had to tell them not to retaliate,” Johns said. “Our guys did a fantastic job at not making it worse than it could have been.”
Friday night, Sept. 20, Nature Coast Tech High School will make another road trip and open up the district portion of the schedule against Central High School, the kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
This week will be an emotional roller coaster ride for both Johns and for Morgan, both will be waiting for the FHSAA to make a decision about the playing status of Morgan. The report was submitted to the FHSAA Sunday and will be reviewed Monday with a decision either Tuesday Sept 17, or Wednesday Sept 18.
There really should be one question asked by the investigation team from the FHSAA about the delivery of the tackle.
Was the tackle made with malice?
The answer is-No!
It was a complex continuation of a football play, nothing more.
So, once again at Nature Coast Tech High School it will be another week of an emotional tide for the Sharks. With or without Morgan, the Sharks will continue to play, practice and they will be ready to tag an emotional loss on Central High School who has had a strong season so far, with a record of 3 wins and 1 loss.