Going into a district matchup against Citrus High School on their field, the Nature Coast Sharks knew ahead of time that a win tonight would not only eliminate the Hurricanes from title contention, but would also set up a showdown with undefeated Hernando next Thursday night for the FHSAA Class 5A-7 district championship. Nature Coast went into this game riding on a district winning streak dating back to 2014, the first season for former head coach Justin Worden.
And when the game concluded, not only was that streak broken, but it made this upcoming week’s games of utmost importance on the schedule.
Riding behind their running back/fullback combo of seniors Rudolph Holton III and Cody Russell, who totaled 209 of Citrus’ 214 yards on the ground, the host Hurricanes (4-3) pulled off the upset of the powerhouse Sharks, 37-27. The Hurricanes also had 66 yards passing from sophomore Connor Bishop, with two touchdown passes from inside the NCT 10-yard line.
The Sharks (5-2) ended the game with 12 penalties for 110 yards. Citrus ended the game with 6 penalties for 35 yards. Red zone possessions were also key, as both teams went perfect in coming away with touchdowns, Citrus 2 of 2 and NCT 1 of 1.
Nature Coast skipper Cory Johns thought that his team played a decent game, but admitted that “Turnovers and penalties were the key to the game. It’s difficult to win the game if you don’t win the turnover battle. We also continue to make mistakes with holding penalties on 5 or 6 yard carries and it sets us back.”
In classic Nature Coast fashion, their running game was dominant as it’s been the last four years. Junior tailback Mike Weston showed why he is the workhorse back for the team, gaining 180 of NCT’s 279 yards on the ground and two scores on 16 carries, an average of 11.3 YPC. For the passing game, sophomore Fabian Burnett went 2/3 for 16 yards; his one incompletion was costly, as it led to a pick-six by Russell just before the end of the first quarter. Later in the game, senior tailback Willie Coffey took over under center, and on his second pass, he had a heave up the middle to Dontay Washington, which was caught at midfield, and Hightower gave an impressive stiff arm to his defender and raced up the sideline for a 67-yard touchdown. That play led to the final points scored of the game.
For Nature Coast, as previously stated, their next game is the most important on their schedule. The team travels into the heart of Brooksville to take on the undefeated Hernando Leopards, who just finished defeating Central 56-6, at Tom Fisher Stadium on HHS Hall of Fame Night. For the Hurricanes, they host the Lecanto Panthers, who recently lost to Weeki Wachee 42-21, on Thursday night. A three-way tie is possible between the teams, which if it happens, would be decided on Monday night.
Playoff Implications for the three teams:
Hernando: Clinches 5A-7 district title with WIN
Nature Coast: Wins 5A-7 district with Win AND Citrus loss; 3-way tie with win AND Citrus win
Citrus: Forces three-way tie with Hernando and NCT with win AND NCT win