HUDSON – At the end of the night, Central could still take solace in what it accomplished this season. But Thursday night simply wasn’t how the Bears wanted things to finish.
Traveling to Hudson for the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, Central fell behind quickly and could never recover, as the host Cobras rolled to a 50-12 victory.
“Obviously, we’re not going to take this game as our season. We did something at Central that hasn’t been done in a long time,” Central head coach Chris Sands said. “I think we’ve built a program there. I think it’s finally at where it needs to be. We take pride in what we do there. We send kids to college. We win football games and we do it the right way.
“And I think our kids played really hard tonight. Hats off to Hudson tonight. They played a hell of a game and those guys are good players.”
The Bears (6-4) ended up with their first winning record since the 2007 season and boasted the state’s leading rusher, senior De’Vonta Smith, who came in with 2,829 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns.
But the Cobras (6-4) were unstoppable offensively for much of the first half. On the game’s fourth play from scrimmage, Cyler Doran hit Dominick Rutigliano on a 29-yard touchdown pass, and Hudson had the lead less than two minutes in.
Doran added a 22-yard scoring strike to Trey Doran later in the first quarter, and a 6-yard touchdown to Justin Griffin two plays into the second.
Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to the house to finally get Central on the board, but that only cut Hudson’s lead to 21-6.
Cyler Doran ran for a 27-yard touchdown, as the Cobras ended each of their first four possessions in the end zone. Meanwhile Smith was contained for much of the first two quarters until he ran seven times for 49 yards on a drive capped by a 7-yard touchdown at 5:06 in the second.
Down 28-12 at the intermission, Central received the second-half kickoff and reached the Hudson 12-yard line before turning it over on downs.
A 48-yard run by Remynte Turner followed by a 37-yard touchdown pass from Cyler Doran to Griffin was the immediate response. The Cobras then recovered an onside kick and turned that into another scoring connection, this time Griffin taking a throw from Doran only to toss it back to Doran, who ran it 39 yards down the left sideline.
Trey Doran’s interception gave the ball right back to Hudson, and Turner punched it in from eight yards to initiate a running clock. A bad shotgun snap in the end zone resulted in a fourth-quarter safety for the hosts.
“It was frustrating for us offensively. First play of the game, one of our big-time linemen Josh Turner got hurt,” Sands said. “So we ended up playing a JV kid there, we lost some depth. They beat us up front. They play hard.
“We fought back. But start of the second half, we had some momentum, we were moving the ball and then we got stalled on fourth down inside the 20. So obviously that didn’t help and it kind of got out of hand from there.”
Central had several snap issues late in the game, costing Smith a chunk of yardages operating out of the Wildcat formation. As a result he finished with only 84 yards on 26 carries, his lowest output of the year and only his second time under 100 yards.
Nevertheless, it was one of the best statistical seasons in county history for Smith, a year after watching his cousin DeShawn Smith lead the nation in rushing and scoring at Nature Coast.
“It was good. I had a lot of big numbers,” Smith said. “I had a lot of fun and I’m going to miss high school football. It meant a lot to me. I loved everything about it and I’m going to cherish all of it, wins, losses and otherwise.
“In the offseason I set a goal for myself that I would lead the state in rushing yards. So I made sure I worked hard enough, and every game I went out there and worked extra hard to get where I’m at now.”
“You’re talking about a kid who played in nine (regular-season) games, he rushed for almost 3,000 yards, and the frustrating part about it is he’s still getting the naysayers talking about him,” Sands said. “This kid is special. This kid’s going to be playing on Saturdays, early. He’s a kid that not only excels on the field but in the community and in the classroom. He’s a lovable kid and he’s going to be a special kid playing on Saturdays.”
Now the question will be whether the Bears, with Smith graduating, can continue to build on the progress made this campaign.
“We’ve just got to have a great offseason program like we did this past year, and keep moving forward,” Sands said. “We’re actually a really young team. I think we only have six starters, offense and defense, that are seniors. We have a great junior class. We probably have one of the best players in this area in (offensive tackle) Lyndell Hudson, who will anchor us next year. I expect big things out of our team.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.