BROOKSVILLE – Last time Central played a football game, the Bears were absorbing a season-ending 50-12 loss to Hudson in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl and the ending of the prep career of De’Vonta Smith.
More than six month later, on Thursday night, Central was once again looking at the Cobras on the opposing sideline, but the outcome was far different. Behind 265 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground by quarterback Izzy Zena, the host Bears capped their spring with a 35-14 exhibition victory.
“It was a little frustrating at times, turning the ball over a couple times in the first half. But we have a really good football team,” Central head coach Chris Sands said. “Everyone is questioning what we’re going to do without De’Vonta, blah, blah, blah. The reason why we did what we did with De’Vonta was because he was that special. It had nothing to do with our other players, we just knew he was a really special player.
“Now we’re spreading it out a little bit and kind of doing different things, and ultimately our football team is good. With an offensive line like we have, we’re going to be able to protect, we’re going to be able to make holes like we did tonight, and we just expect some big things out of this team.”
The Bears are coming off a 6-4 campaign, their first winning season since 2007. Yet the graduation of the Parade All-American Smith does leave a considerable void, after he led the state with 2,913 rushing yards and scored 37 touchdowns.
Zena, who will be a senior in the fall, served notice that Central’s rushing attack might not be leaving with Smith.
“Yes, De’Vonta was like this star. He was a leader, he passed down the team to me,” Zena said. “But honestly, I don’t think this is the beginning of me. I think this is the beginning of a program that you’re going to start seeing a lot of better things as a team. Not just one person, as a team.”
On the very first play from scrimmage, Zena ran 80 yards to the end zone. He added a 65-yard touchdown run with 4:02 left in the first quarter, and went 85 yards to pay dirt with 1:15 remaining in the half.
“We went over a lot in practice, me and Justin Fribbley. We came from Springstead, so we had a good connection with read option,” Zena said. “The tackle just bit on Fribbley so hard that the lane to the backside was wide open and I just followed what Coach told me, take it straight instead of trying to make a bunch of cuts, and got some touchdowns.”
He tacked on a considerably shorter 1-yard touchdown at the 4:33 mark of the fourth quarter, and found Isiah Brown on a 4-yard scoring strike two minutes later. Zena is also the placekicker, so he had a hand in every point his team scored.
“We’re good up front. When he’s running behind a Division I recruit (tackle Lyndell Hudson), it helps, and he just hits it, and he’s athletic and he makes the correct read. We put a little read option in and he definitely flourished in that,” Sands said. “He made some mistakes, but this is the first real, true full game Izzy played at quarterback, and he played well.”
Hudson, also 6-4 in 2016, is replacing its own star in quarterback Cyler Doran, and has endured a tumultuous offseason featuring three changes at head coach. Ceith Rivera ran in a score from 5 yards out at 1:27 in the first quarter, and Dylan Dilandro found Trey Doran on a nice 50-yard touchdown pass with 45.2 seconds to go before halftime.
Central got two interceptions out of Fribbley, and this win figures to generate some positive momentum as the Bears try to build toward the upcoming season.
“We’ve just got to pick up the film and see what we did. Learn from our mistakes,” Sands said. “We made a couple bonehead mistakes tonight and a lot of them are from our older guys. We just got to kind of clean up everything and be ready when we hit in August.
“Before I got here, this team, it was tough. It was down in the dumps. I think we kind of got the attention of everyone around here that Central is here to stay. We aren’t the De’Vonta Smith show, and I think we showed that tonight, playing a good Hudson football team that beat our butt last year with De’Vonta Smith. I think we showed that we have a good team and hopefully we can keep that momentum going.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.