It was a Friday night at Shark Tank Stadium that will forever be embedded into the history of Hernando County prep football. Nature Coast earning its first playoff win? That happened. A county team reaching 11-0 for the first time? Yep, check that one off the list, too. How about a player breaking a state record? How about two? It was that kind of night, in that kind of season for the Sharks, as they bounced Zephyrhills from the postseason with a through 42-13 shellacking in a Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal.
“It feels pretty good,” said running back DeShawn Smith. “It’s what we’ve been working on forever now.” For Smith, there was a lot more to it than that. He came into the game needing three touchdowns and 16 points to match a pair of state marks held by University of Alabama Heisman hopeful Derrick Henry while playing for Yulee in 2012. The senior Smith ended up rushing 26 times for 322 yards, running for five touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. That gives him 57 touchdowns and 352 points on the season, setting the new state standard in both categories. With 52 rushing touchdowns, he’s three short of Henry’s record in that category. As for Henry’s state record of 4,261 rushing yards, that one could be tough to reach. At 3,111 yards, Smith would need to average 287.5 yards over the maximum four possible games Nature Coast could still play. Of course, he’s currently averaging 282.8.
Not that any of this seems to even remotely phase Smith, the county’s record-holder for single-game, single-season and career rushing yards and total touchdowns, who also threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Syblis at the end of the first half Friday night. “It really don’t mean too much to me,” Smith said. “I really don’t worry about all that stuff. I’m just trying to get the win at the end of the day.” So far, winning is all Nature Coast has done this year. The Sharks, ranked sixth in the final 5A Associated Press state poll released this week, are the third county squad to ever go 10-0 in the regular season, but neither of the previous two advanced to the playoffs. Springstead, however, went 11-2 during its run to the regional final in 2013.
In another sidebar, it was Zephyrhills that knocked off Nature Coast in last season’s three-way tiebreaker for the district runner-up spot. This time the Bulldogs (8-3), who came in averaging 43.7 points per game, not only failed to contain Smith but couldn’t fire up their own high-powered offense. Running back Antwione Sims, with 2,093 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in the regular season, was limited to 129 yards on 25 carries and a late touchdown well after the outcome was decided. “DeShawn did DeShawn,” Zephyrhills head coach Reggie Roberts said. “I was expecting a little DeShawn, but I expected us to respond. I thought we’d score some points tonight, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Now the Sharks can turn their attention to this Friday’s semifinal contest in which they’ll host River Ridge (10-1) at 7:30 p.m. “It feels great. Like I told the kids, they’re part of the history of this school forever and ever now, and that’s a big deal. It’s a real big deal,” Nature Coast head coach Justin Worden said. “But at the same time it’s a dangerous thing to fall in love with one win when you’ve got four more chances. “We’ll celebrate it for about eight more hours and then we’re on to the next thing.”
Elsewhere, the winter sports season is beginning to unfold, starting with girls and boys soccer. The Springstead girls hosted Nature Coast in a battle of early unbeatens Tuesday night, with the Lady Eagles securing a 4-1 victory behind two goals from Samantha Betters, and a goal and assist apiece by Sasha Garcia and Erika Hiller. Chelsea Reid scored for the Lady Sharks.
Meanwhile, Central beat Umatilla on Tuesday, 4-0, and Mount Dora on Friday, 5-1, to improve to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in 2A-6. Weeki Wachee’s boys defeated Hernando on Monday, 7-1, and tied Zephyrhills on Thursday, 1-1. The Hornets are 2-1-2 overall, 1-0-2 in 3A-7. Joseph Raguso scored three goals against the Leopards, and Harry Flanagan had three assists. Flanagan had the goal against Zephyrhills, assisted by Bailey Hypes.
Nature Coast lost to Pasco on Thursday, 5-3. Kyle Reckner assisted via a throw-in on all three goals for the Sharks (2-1 overall, 1-1 3A-7), to Idel Carmichael, Chris Reckner and Vinny Stulec. Springstead went 3-0 in the opening week of girls basketball season, beating Weeki Wachee on Tuesday (53-18), Anclote on Thursday (62-47) and Hernando on Friday (45-32). Before the loss to the Lady Eagles, the Lady Leopards got off to a 2-0 start with wins over South Sumter on Tuesday (43-32) and Zephyrhills on Wednesday (25-22). Taylor Neblock scored 12 points in the first game, while Ali Bronson had 10 rebounds and seven blocks. NaKayla Roberts chipped in six steals.
Bronson had 13 rebounds, three blocks and three steals against the Lady Bulldogs. Taylyn Murwin collected 15 boards and Roberts had eight points, seven rebounds and seven steals.
Central also went 2-1, losing to Sunlake on Tuesday (49-29) before topping Seven Rivers Christian on Thursday (69-37) and Weeki Wachee on Friday (33-27). Madeline Lewis is averaging 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals to pace the Lady Bears. Arreon Walter is pulling down 10.7 rebounds per contest and Mykenna Corbett is averaging 5.3 steals.