SPRING HILL – Central and Springstead had to wait nearly an extra hour to start their season on Friday night, and when they finally took the field at Booster Stadium, the performance mirrored the soggy weather.
Both teams had their share of miscues and wasted opportunities, and in the end a missed 2-point conversion proved the difference as the host Eagles held on for a 21-20 victory.
“I saw an ugly win. I felt like we were outplayed, actually, in some regards. I’m happy that we won, but we just won ugly,” Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. “There were too many mistakes, too many penalties, shooting ourselves in the foot. It left a bad taste in my mouth a little bit. I know we can play better, I know what we’re capable of and we’re just not doing it yet.
“The rain definitely doesn’t help. It’s a slow field. I feel like we’ve got a little bit of speed and we couldn’t really capitalize on the edge, on the outside. It wasn’t really conditions for throwing. … It was the same for both teams. So I can’t really say it was better for them or us. You’ve just got to play in the conditions you’re handed.”
Originally slated for a 7:30 p.m. start, a thunderstorm rolled through the area right around that time and delayed kickoff until 8:20 p.m.
The Bears took advantage of a short field on their opening drive, going 55 yards in nine plays, quarterback Izzy Zena and Justin Fribbley combining to carry the ball six times for 44 yards. Isiah Brown took a direct snap and dove up the middle for a touchdown from a yard out at 5:06 in the first quarter.
It took until 10:18 in the second for the Eagles to answer back, when junior backup quarterback Adrian Fribley scored on a 1-yard run. Fribley started in place of fellow junior Nathan Sims, who was a game-time scratch as he recovers from a right ankle injury.
Fribley connected with wide-open Isaiah Delgado on a 36-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline with 29.8 seconds left in the half, giving Springstead a 14-7 advantage at the intermission.
Following an interception by Delgado, Randy Morgan burst up the middle and went 47 yards untouched to the end zone, increasing the lead to 21-7 at the 8:28 mark of the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Central converted fourth-and-6 from its own 38-yard line with a 13-yard run by Zena, and three plays later Zena scored on an impressive 33-yard scamper during which he was tackled but never downed, and alertly continued running.
Then the Bears forced a three-and-out, and marched 65 yards in a 12-play drive, featuring two fourth-down conversions on an 11-yard run by Zena and an 8-yard pass from Zena to Jonathan Allion. Brown caught a 19-yard scoring strike from Zena, giving Central a chance to tie with 10:57 still to play in the fourth quarter.
But rather than go for the conventional point-after kick, the Bears went for two points, an attempt which resulted in Zena and Fribbley failing to connect on a pass in the middle of the end zone.
“I’m going to tell everyone every time, 99.999 percent of the time I’m going to go for the win,” Central head coach Chris Sands said. “If we have a chance to be winning, I’m going to do it, and that’s not even a question, and what I’ve learned as a coach and that’ll never change for me.
“I understand there was a lot of time left, but you’ve got to also realize they’re a lot deeper than us. They’ve got a lot more kids that are fresher. We have nine guys going both ways, so eventually that tiredness is going to come. These are high-school kids. We had the momentum. We had a great play drawn up. We just didn’t make a play there and they did.”
The Bears quickly forced the Eagle to punt and seemed poised to go in front starting at midfield, but that possession stalled and ended with a blocked punt by Ryan Cowan, recovered at the Central 35 by Fribley.
Springstead ended up punting the ball back to the Bears with 3:31 to play, but two plays later Cowan recovered a fumble, giving the Eagles the chance to run out the clock.
Zena finished with 136 yards on 19 carries, while Morgan rushed 30 times for 187 yards.
“I’m happy that we won, but I’m frustrated about how we played a little bit. We started off slow but we picked it up at the end,” Morgan said. “It don’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish, and we finished that fourth quarter, we sealed them off. I’m proud of us, but we’re going to work hard at practice and we need to take care of some things.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.