Hurricane Irma’s wrath over the state of Florida caused a hefty amount of games to be either cancelled or rescheduled across the North Suncoast area. One of those games was an early 5A-7 district matchup between the Nature Coast Sharks and the Central Bears, who are two premier programs in the county.
The rescheduling was only the beginning of what would transpire inside the “Bear Den” Tuesday night.
Despite committing an astonishing eight fumbles and losing six, including one on a kickoff, the Sharks (3-1) survived the power of a ferocious Bears team, edging them 28-26 and continuing their county winning streak of 12 games. Their North Suncoast winning streak of 24 games came to an end last Friday at Lake Wales.
Nature Coast lost the turnover battle 6-2 to Central. Two fumbles, one by sophomore quarterback Fabian Burnett and one by senior Willie Coffey, negated two big plays of 40+ yards and kept Central in the game. The penalty totals also were a problem, as the Sharks accumulated 13 for 110 yards, while Central had 8 for 70.
Two of the Sharks’ final penalties, a defensive holding and defensive pass interference, kept Central’s hopes alive deep in Shark territory. Unfortunately, a 30-yard go-ahead field goal by Zena went wide right, and the Sharks ran out the clock to win.
Burnett led all Sharks in total yards gained, passing for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 4 for 6 passing, and ran for 144 yards on 15 carries and a score. One passing touchdown to Coffey was eerily reminiscent of a pass against Crystal River, in which Coffey dropped what would’ve been a sure touchdown. This time around, Coffey made the Bears pay.
Junior running back and perennial workhorse Mike Weston sat out the first half due to violation of team rules, but came out in the second half to lead all running backs with 99 yards on 11 carries. He also added a fumble that negated a 36-yard run, his best of the night.
When discussing about how the game ended, head coach Cory Johns said “When you turn the ball over six times, you can’t really expect to be in anything else but a tight game. We turned the ball over three times last week, but that was in the pouring rain. I can’t explain what happened (Tuesday night).
For Central (2-3), the team was coming off a 51-0 domination of Lecanto, in which their offense had resemblances of the 1999 St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” in racking up the points and 449 yards of offense, and their defense looked like 2000 Baltimore Ravens meets 2002 Buccaneers with a pinch of ’85 Bears, limiting the Panthers to 64 yards of total offense and one first down in garbage time.
And with emotions riding high, Central started the game against NCT the same way they did against Lecanto, going up 14-0 on two touchdown passes from senior quarterback Izzy Zena to Isaiah Brown, 49 and 13 yards respectively. The score could’ve potentially been 21-0 before NCT put points on the board, but a back-shoulder fade route to tight end Johnathan Allion was intercepted by Dontay Washington.
Zena led his entire team in total yards, passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 145 yards on 14 carries. The 13-yard score to Brown showed his confidence in his receiver, as Brown worked with a batted ball and kept his feet in bounds for the score.
Bears coach Chris Sands was incredibly proud of his team’s efforts Tuesday night, even if the result wasn’t how they wanted it to go. “I think we are the better team, and our guys play hard. We just got to pick up the pieces and get back to work”.
Both teams were coming off short weeks to prepare, and must do the same thing again this week. For Nature Coast, they play another county opponent in the Weeki Wachee Hornets in the Shark Tank. For Central, they go on the road to play Citrus before next week’s senior night against Crystal River.