Prep Football

Eagles overcome sloppiness to win classic

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Springstead sophomore Anthony Alexis runs for 142 yards and two touchdowns in Thursday's preseason classic at Hudson. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

HUDSON – For the past two decades, Springstead has prided itself on playing a disciplined, mistake-free brand of football.
But preseason classics are rarely a showcase of crisp, fundamentally-sound performance. To that end, Thursday night’s exhibition at Hudson revealed plenty of ragged edges, though still yielded a positive result: a 32-6 victory.

Football teams come together for good cause

Photography by Alice Mary Herden

Springstead's Adam Bass gains yardage against Fivay during Saturday's Clash 4 Clayton event at Springstead. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Dustin Kupcik admits, he didn’t really know Rob Mahler. Yet the Springstead athletic director felt a kinship with the former Hudson High head football coach that compelled him to act.
Last month, Mahler’s 1-year-old son Clayton was diagnosed with Stage 3 intermediate-risk embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of pediatric cancer. Mahler had stepped down in November after two seasons leading the Cobras. Four years ago, Kupcik’s sister Kasey went through her own battle with cancer.

Bears mourn loss of beloved ‘Coach Buck’

Photo provided by Joe DiCristofalo

Willie "Coach Buck" Thomas Jr./Photo provided by Joe DiCristofalo

The opening weeks of August are typically a time of excitement and hope for a high school football team, with practices beginning and the season on the near horizon.
But at Central High, it’d be understandable if the mood was far more subdued. There’s a large void left on the Bears’ coaching staff and a metaphorical hole in the hearts of those connected to the program following last month’s sudden passing of assistant coach Willie Thomas Jr., better known as “Coach Buck.”

Central front and center on National Signing Day

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

From left, four Central football players pose together during their ceremony Wednesday on National Signing Day: Dominique Walker, Josh Rivera, De'Vonta Smith and Sam Garner. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Since he took over as Central’s head football coach three years ago, Chris Sands has often emphasized his focus on finding opportunities for his players at the college level.
The product of his efforts was on display during Wednesday’s National Signing Day, when four Bears celebrated as they put pen to paper on a National Letter of Intent.

Worden leaves Sharks for alma mater

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Nature Coast head coach Justin Worden is leaving the Sharks after three seasons. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Justin Worden made a name for himself the past three seasons at Nature Coast, guiding the Sharks to the best two-year football run in county history.
But Hernando County isn’t truly home, and the chance to return to his alma mater proved an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. So on Thursday, Worden stepped down as Sharks’ head coach to take the same position at Titusville-Astronaut.

Sharks suffer shocking semifinal loss

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

River Ridge's Alex Kostogiannes gets off a punt over the rush of Nature Coast's Lenkel Smith in Friday's playoff contest. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Going into Friday night’s second-round playoff game, undefeated Nature Coast seemed on a collision course with Green Cove Springs-Clay for an Elite Eight rematch.
But River Ridge had other ideas. Hosting the Class 5A, Region 2 football semifinal, the Royal Knights found a way to stymie the Sharks’ powerhouse offense and handed them a stunning 24-3 defeat.
“It hurts. It hurts,” Nature Coast head coach Justin Worden said. “We’ve got a good group of seniors. They’ve played hard all year. Mistakes finally caught up to us.

Sports notebook: Eagles fall to powerhouse Vanguard

Photography by Alice Mary Herden and Cheryl Clanton

Springstead lost a regional quarterfinal at Ocala-Vanguard on Friday, 45-0. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

For Springstead’s football team, the return to the postseason after a two-season absence proved a short visit. But considering the task it faced, the result wasn’t unexpected.
The Eagles visited Ocala-Vanguard in a Class 6A, Region 2 quarterfinal on Friday night and suffered a 45-0 defeat.
Yet considering the Knights (9-1) boast several Division I prospects and averaged 45.7 points in the regular season with an average margin of victory of 41.4 points, it was no secret that Springstead (6-3) faced an uphill battle.

Owens sends Sharks into semis

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Nature Coast's T.J. Owens rushed for 387 yards and four touchdowns in Friday's playoff victory over Zephyrhills. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

BROOKSVILLE – As a freshman at Springstead in 2013, T.J. Owens caught a glimpse of postseason play while the Eagles made a run to the Elite Eight.
On Friday night, now a senior at Nature Coast, Owens finally had the chance to deliver his own playoff magic. He carried the ball 22 times for 387 yards and scored four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter as the Sharks pulled away from visiting Zephyrhills to win a Class 5A, Region 2 quarterfinal, 35-21.

Weeki Wachee football coach resigns

Photography by Alice Mary Herden

Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee resigned last Sunday after seven seasons at the helm. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

For the first time since it began play, the Weeki Wachee football team will be searching for a new head coach.
On Sunday, Mark Lee turned in his resignation to principal Troy LaBarbara, ending his seven-year tenure that started when the school opened in 2010. It came only days after the conclusion of a difficult 0-10 season.
“I thought it was best for a change for both sides,” Lee said. “Any time there’s a coaching change there’s a new energy and maybe that’ll help.”

Bowl game a bitter end for Bears

Photography by Alice Mary Herden

Central senior De'Vonta Smith scored twice in Thursday's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl at Hudson. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

HUDSON – At the end of the night, Central could still take solace in what it accomplished this season. But Thursday night simply wasn’t how the Bears wanted things to finish.
Traveling to Hudson for the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, Central fell behind quickly and could never recover, as the host Cobras rolled to a 50-12 victory.

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