High school football was in full swing Friday night as the Nature Coast Sharks returned to the Shark Tank in Brooksville to welcome district opponent Crystal River in the Sharks’ first game since Hurricane Irma cancelled two weeks of games. Nature Coast, who had previously defeated South Sumter 33-7, was looking to extend its Hernando County record of 23-straight regular season wins.
It did not come easily, as Crystal River (0-5) came ready to play spoiler.
After opening the scoring on a 17-yard toss on fourth down by interim quarterback Logan Wardlow to Xavier Francois, Nature Coast responded by scoring 19 straight unanswered points to extend their winning streak to 24 games, defeating the visiting Pirates 19-7. The final score could have been 26-7, as NCT senior Dontay Washington picked off Wardlow in NCT territory and returned the interception 86 yards to the house, only for it to be called back on a personal foul penalty.
Nature Coast ended the game with an astonishing 11 penalties for 110 yards, most of them offensive holding that negated some big runs that the Sharks have been known for in recent years, while Crystal River had only 6 for 45 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Fabian Burnett was tasked with jump-starting the Sharks’ dormant offense, and he delivered, rushing for a game-high 114 yards on 19 carries. He also went 9 of 12 passing for 116 yards and a 10-yard score to senior tailback Willie Coffey on third down early in the second half, which was set up by a beautiful 60-yard pass to Dontay Washington to put the Sharks in a prime scoring situation. Coffey had a chance to score just before the first half concluded, blazing through the Pirates secondary and up the left side of the field, but dropped a perfect pass from Burnett.
Nature Coast ended the game with 176 yards on 37 carries. Senior tailback Mike Weston led the Sharks running game behind Burnett, gaining 31 yards on nine carries.
First year head Coach Cory Johns improved his record to 2-0 since replacing Justin Worden, who returned to his alma mater of Astronaut High on the east coast. He had praise for Burnett and the passing game, mentioning that “we threw the ball better than we did in a long time.”
When discussing the running game, in which Nature Coast primarily relied on the quarterback counter plays, Johns replied “We ran a lot of quarterback traps and runs, and that’s what he (Burnett) does best.” Johns also mentioned that while Crystal River was effective at times running the jet sweep, his linebacker core of Dajour Morgan and Zach Powell did a great job stopping the Pirates.
For Crystal River, head coach Tony Lewis heaped praise on his team’s performance on both sides of the ball. Lewis said “I thought this was the best our offense played all year, and our defense played great. This is definitely something we can build on for sure.”
Crystal River this week plays yet another unbeaten district opponent in the Hernando Leopards on their field this Friday night Sept. 29, 2017.
When discussing Nature Coast’s next opponent, in which they travel into Orlando to take on the Lake Wales Highlanders, Johns said “We must be better than tonight, because Lake Wales is a phenomenal team, and if we play like this, they’ll put up 60 points on us.”