In a testament to the sheer volume of DeShawn Smith’s 2015 statistics, Friday night’s Class 5A, Region II final at Green Cove Springs-Clay technically ranks as his worst rushing performance of the season. This happened on a night when the Nature Coast senior still ran 19 times for 131 yards and scored twice, not to mention he caught two passes for 110 yards and a third touchdown – in a third-round playoff game.
All season long, Smith has basically declined to so much as acknowledge his individual accomplishments. So in a season where he shattered county records, set new state marks and even challenged some national standards, the 40-28 loss to the host Blue Devils was paramount on his mind. “I ain’t satisfied,” Smith said. “I’m never satisfied.”
The Sharks (12-1) battled back from an early 14-0 hole, once tying the game on Smith’s score, a 10-yard run on fourth down early in the second quarter, then taking a 21-20 lead when Smith added another fourth-down touchdown, from 11 yards out, with 8:32 to go in the third. But Nature Coast’s inability to contain Clay’s Bilal Ally, who carried the ball 49 times for 317 yards and three touchdowns, allowed the Blue Devils (10-3) to continually extend drives.
After the hosts built a two-score advantage, Brian Haygood’s heave downfield turned into a 65-yard touchdown as Smith somehow managed to run under the long toss on the first play of the fourth quarter. “We got a lot of stuff motion-wise that we try and get different looks to run the ball,” Nature head coach Justin Worden said. “When we motion we recognize that he’s faster than the kids on him, and it’s just old-school backyard football. Throw the ball deep and he just outran them.”
That made it 34-28, and the Sharks forced a turnover on downs midway through the final period despite Clay reaching the Nature Coast 3-yard line with a fresh set of downs. Yet the Sharks went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and the Blue Devils held on to the ball until Colin Wilson’s clinching 1-yard touchdown run with 45.9 seconds remaining.
Smith, who played on both sides of the ball throughout the night, had cramping issues during the game and briefly fell ill on the sideline after taking a hard hit while attempting to catch a pass on the second-to-last play. “That’s DeShawn, he’s going to leave it all on the field,” Worden said. “It is a physical game and I’m sure it took a lot out of him, but he’s one of those kids, you’ve got to drag him off the field.”
“They scrape pretty hard and they wouldn’t let me backdoor it,” Smith said. “I kept backdooring it and I had to finally figure out what was going on. It was like, ‘Just kick to the outside.’ I went to the outside, and that’s what I figured out.”
It’s not tough to figure out his place in county history. Unofficially, he finished with 3,686 rushing yards for the season and 5,838 for his career. Those final numbers could change slightly, as Nature Coast had not posted its stats from Friday night as of Saturday evening. However, he had long since established new county records in both those categories, and his season yardage will rank as the third-highest in state history and 11th most for anyone who has ever played sanctioned prep football in the country, according to the records of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Meanwhile, his 66 total touchdowns is 11 more than the previous single-season state mark and tied for fourth all-time nationally. With 60 rushing touchdowns, he also established a new state standard and tied for sixth nationally. That goes along with the fact he has the county’s two highest single-game rushing totals – 444 last week against River Ridge and 413 against Central in September – and his eight touchdowns in the Central game are also a county record. So are his career 92 touchdowns and 83 rushing touchdowns.
He can also boast being a part of one of the finest team showings the county has seen. Only Springstead in 2013 advanced as deep into the postseason, finishing up 11-2. “Like we told the seniors, they’ve set the standard as one of the best years of football for a team in the county,” Worden said. “So that’s something they’re going to be able to hold on to for a long, long time.”
With the Sharks’ loss, the county’s prep fall sports season officially ended. Winter sports have already gotten underway, though with the holiday this past week’s schedule was condensed to Monday and Tuesday.
The Central girls soccer team suffered its first loss, falling at Nature Coast on Tuesday, 3-0. The Lady Bears (8-1-1) were severely shorthanded, as leading scorer Emily York was sidelined by a knee injury and other key contributors were away for Thanksgiving. The Lady Sharks (7-3-1) bounced back from a frustrating 0-0 tie with Central the previous Friday, with second-half goals by Chelsea Reid, Sabrina Branch and Aliza Aponte.
Nature Coast and Weeki Wachee’s boys played to a 1-1 tie Monday on the Hornets’ pitch. The Sharks moved to 3-1-1 overall, 2-1-1 in Class 3A, District 7. The Hornets are 3-1-3, 2-1-3 in the district. Springstead defeated Central on Monday, 4-1. The Eagles improved to 4-3-1 overall.
Also on Monday, Springstead downed Central in girls basketball, 48-41, to push its record to 5-0. In boys basketball, Nature Coast is 3-0 (2-0 5A-7) after winning against Citrus on Tuesday, 71-43. That same night, Hernando improved to 3-0 (3-0 5A-7) behind a 55-48 victory over Lecanto, led by Joel Wilson with 23 points plus Donta Manuel with 11 points and eight rebounds. Central notched wins over The Villages on Monday (61-59) and First Academy-Leesburg on Tuesday (52-39). The Bears are now 5-0.