If anyone doubted whether DeShawn Smith could continue at his mind-boggling pace against presumably stiffer postseason competition, well they were correct. The Nature Coast senior running back hasn’t matched his county-record production from the regular season. Somehow, he’s actually gotten better.
On Friday night as the Sharks hosted River Ridge in a Class 5A, Region II semifinal, Smith pieced together quite possibly the finest single-game performance in Hernando County history. He rushed 28 times for 444 yards, smashing the county mark of 413 he set on Sept. 18 against Central. He also tallied six touchdowns, which is amazingly only his fourth-best game in that category this year. Oh, and Nature Coast pulled away down the stretch of a back-and-forth contest with the Royal Knights, coming away with a 42-33 victory.
“Hey, he’s special, man,” Nature Coast head coach Justin Worden said of Smith. “Sometimes you get something special going on, you’ve just got to look at it and admire it. But we just keep working. Every week we try and get him the most available running lanes we can get him and get him the cleanest looks we can get him.”
For the Sharks, their record improved to 12-0, a new county standard for wins. They’re the second county squad to advance this deep into the playoffs, following Springstead in 2013. That Eagles team went 11-2, falling in the regional finals.
Nature Coast must travel to Green Cove Springs-Clay for next Friday’s 5A-II final, enduring a post-Thanksgiving road trip in excess of 2 ½ hours and 150 miles. “A good coach I’m really fond of told me one time, ‘You’re going to have a good season, but then you have a season where you practice on Thanksgiving.’ That’s a good season,” Worden said. “We’ll have a full week of preparation.”
To reach this point meant surviving the typically stingy defense of the Knights (10-2), as well as the onslaught of physical running back Chris Schwarz, who became Pasco County’s all-time leader in career rushing yards while carrying the ball 38 times for 276 yards and scoring twice. On the second snap of the game, Schwarz went 65 yards to the end zone. Smith responded on the very first play of the ensuing possession with an 80-yard touchdown run.
“They kind of called me out, and you don’t call four (his uniform number) out,” Smith said. “They pretty much were saying they were going to stop me. They said (Schwarz) was going to have more yards than me.” It didn’t work out that way, yet River Ridge certainly put up a fight. A 1-yard touchdown run by Schwarz with 13 seconds left in the second quarter gave the visitors a 21-20 halftime advantage.
After the two teams twice exchanged the lead in the third quarter, a 76-yard scamper to the end zone by Smith, along with a 2-point run by Willie Coffey, put Nature Coast in front, 34-27, with 4:20 left in the third. The Knights scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Trevor Hawks with 10:36 remaining, but misfired on the extra point that would have tied it up. Smith tacked on a 4-yard touchdown and a 2-point run at the 6:52 mark to provide some breathing room and account for the final margin.
“We’ve told them since we got here, ‘The measure of a man is how he handles adversity.’ They handled it well,” Worden said. “That’s something we’ve been working towards and building on. “I think the biggest thing is we’ve got a lot of confidence in what we do on offense. They knew it, and we pumped them full of, ‘Just get a stop. Especially in the second half, if we could just get one stop, it’s going to be a different ballgame.’ We finally got that stop and we managed to get up by nine, and that was all she wrote.”
Smith now has 3,555 yards on the ground and 63 touchdowns this season. In two playoff games he’s combined for numbers that would normally constitute a solid year, 766 rushing yards and 11 scores. Last week he had broken the state records for single-season touchdowns and points established by Yulee grad and current University of Alabama running back Derrick Henry in 2012. With 58 rushing touchdowns, he has now surpassed Henry’s record of 55. More impressively, he’s five total touchdowns away from the national record of 68, set by T.A. McLendon in North Carolina in 2001.
“We knew going into this that it was going to be a very difficult challenge for our defense,” River Ridge head coach Ryan Benjamin said. “You see on film that the kid has another gear that most kids don’t at the high school level. It’s not just his top-end speed, but it’s his burst. His burst of quickness is really something special.”
High School Basketball
Boys basketball season got officially underway this week, and Nature Coast went 2-0 with wins over Weeki Wachee on Tuesday (73-28) and Fivay on Saturday (62-53). Sophomore guard Austin Rivera led the Sharks against the Hornets with 17 points.
Hernando started off with a 75-65 triumph over Crystal River on Tuesday, paced by Joel Wilson with 33 points.
Springstead beat Weeki Wachee on Monday (64-47) and Lecanto on Wednesday (77-44) to begin 2-0. Michael Flores had 17 points in the first game. Julian Louis recorded a double-double against Lecanto with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Arynn Maull had 14 points and eight boards.
The Weeki Wachee girls team recorded back-to-back wins, taking down Nature Coast on Tuesday (49-46) and Seven Rivers Christian on Thursday (38-30), and sits 3-5 overall.
Hernando Christian Academy has gotten off to a 3-0 start in girls hoops, topping Tampa-Bayshore Christian on Tuesday(45-39), Lakeland-Santa Fe Catholic on Thursday (32-24) and Tampa Bay Christian on Friday (46-19). Mary Jackson is averaging 13 points to pace the Lady Lions, while her sister Milly Jackson is averaging 8.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.0 steals. Cayla Phillips is averaging 8.0 points and 5.0 steals.
High School Soccer
Springstead, after starting off 0-3 in boys soccer, improved to 2-3-1 and 2-0-1 in Class 3A, District 7 with a 1-0 win over Weeki Wachee on Monday and a 1-1 tie against Pasco on Friday.
Weeki Wachee (3-2-2) came back with a 2-1 victory against Wesley Chapel on Wednesday, with goals by Kameron Benvenuto and Joseph Raguso, and assists by Bailey Hypes and Matthew Armstrong. The Hornets are 2-1-2 in 3A-7 play.
Nature Coast beat Zephyrhills on Monday, 5-1, to push its record to 3-1 overall, 2-1 in 3A-7.
In girls soccer, Central moved to 7-0-1 with a 6-2 win over Ocala-Trinity Catholic on Thursday and a 0-0 tie against Nature Coast on Friday. Springstead beat Weeki Wachee on Monday, 10-2, to improve to 3-1 overall and in 3A-7.