BROOKSVILLE – When a team opens the season with a 62-0 victory, it can be hard to follow up with a proper encore.
Hernando hosted Seven Rivers Christian on Friday at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium, and while it didn’t go quite as smoothly as last week’s thumping of Fivay, it counted all the same with a 27-7 win.
“I think a little bit of a letdown after such a strong performance last week,” Hernando head coach Bill Vonada said. “We knew Seven Rivers was going to be good. They are scrappy. We hurt ourselves too many times. You look at penalties. I don’t know how many penalty yards it was, but you probably have to be in pretty good shape to run that far.
“It’s a quality program, there’s no taking anything away from them. I know some people were picking them to upset us. We feel like we left some points on the board, but in the end it’s a win. It’s just hopefully a win we will learn from.”
Though Vonada offenses are typically known for their methodical approach, it was the big play that keyed the Leopards (2-0) early on.
The Warriors (1-1) appeared primed to take advantage of a short field on their first drive of the night, starting at the Hernando 46-yard line and working their way down to the 10 on a failed fourth-down conversion.
Three plays later, the Leopards broke through on an 86-yard touchdown run by Israel Fields at the 4:27 mark of the first quarter. Seven Rivers entered Hernando territory in four of its five first-half possessions, getting stopped at midfield during the other, yet couldn’t dent the scoreboard.
A drive late in the second quarter ended in an interception by Bronson Tafelski, snatching a ball out of the air that was deflected by Arthell Williams. On the next play, Isaac Fields bounced off a would-be tackler and raced 45 yards to the end zone, upping the lead to 14-0 with 2:09 to go in the half.
“I just think we had too many self-inflicted wounds in critical downs and distances,” Seven Rivers head coach Rayburn Greene said. “Hernando’s a very good team, very well-coached team. Big school. They’ve got all the advantages we knew they were going to have coming in. But we didn’t do ourselves any favors.”
On the first possession of the second half, the Warriors finally cashed in, going 67 yards in seven plays, all of them runs. The last was a 1-yard rush by Brendan Rooks, cutting the deficit to 14-7 at 9:09 in the third quarter.
A fast-paced game came to a screeching halt when lighting was spotted with 5:33 left in the third, causing a delay that lasted roughly 50 minutes.
When play resumed, Hernando completed a drive with a 28-yard scoring strike from Boston Tafelski to Isaac Fields. The point-after try was missed, leaving it 20-7 with 2:35 in the third.
Seven Rivers drove to the Leopard 21 on the next possession before turning the ball over on downs. Hernando marched down the field and punched in a 2-yard touchdown on an Israel Fields’ run as 6:11 remained in the game.
“There are a lot of distractions and we have got to learn to tune them out,” Vonada said. “But even there, I’m very proud of how after the lightning break, because I felt like they had momentum, and our guys really responded well. Our defense made some nice adjustments and offensively we made some plays. Even when we had some called back, we made some plays. That’s a credit to the guys to not give up and keep fighting.”
Israel Fields finished with 192 yards on 15 carries to go along with his two scores, pacing a 375-yard collective rushing effort for the Leopards on the ground.
“Good blocking, really good blocking, and just go full speed through the hole and get what I can get,” Israel Fields. “We feel good, really good. It’s a turnaround season. Everybody’s doubting us, so we’ve just got to bring what we’ve got.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.