Oct. 31, 2017- In a rare instance of scheduling purposes due to Hurricane Irma, the Nature Coast Sharks and their bitter county rival Springstead Eagles met up on Halloween night at the Shark Tank for another classic entry into their rivalry. It was also “Senior Night” for the Sharks, as they honored their football players, dancers, and cheerleaders on their final regular season home game as students.
What transpired right after kickoff was a classic game that etched its name into the history books for this rivalry.
After a mild scare by the Eagles, who jumped out to an early lead once electing to receive the opening kickoff, the Sharks (7-2) never flinched once, instead riding behind their main back of junior Michael “Mike-Mike” Weston for 168 yards and eked out a win to close their season, 29-21. Last week, Weston ran behind guard Louis Miele and tackle Jesus Torres. This week, the play calling was the same, but instead of those two, Weston primarily ran behind Grantt Beckford. On the game-winning score, Weston lined up left, followed Beckford and fellow back Zach Powell, ran left and scored from 11 yards out with 46 seconds remaining.
When talking about the play of his running game, Nature Coast head coach Cory Johns wasn’t giving full credit to his backs. Instead, he gave credit to the backs and his offensive line, saying “Our offensive line, these guys are some of the smartest men out there. Our center Justin (Rockwell), he identifies everything before the play is snapped, gets our line set, and they go from there. Today was a true team effort, and our guys came out ready.”
For the passing game, NCT had two interceptions, one by Fabian Burnett and one by Willie Coffey. Coffey’s interception came close to halftime, when he heaved a ball up to Dontay Washington that was a little short and wide left. While Burnett did have a pick, he did connect with Washington on a 40-yard strike in the first, running a play-action fake and hitting him in stride. Burnett also added 84 yards on the ground, including a 5-yard score in the second quarter.
The penalty total was arguably the lowest of the season for the home team. Nature Coast only had 3 for 15 yards, one of which was an offensive offsides penalty at the Eagles 2 which led to an interception in the endzone by Isaiah Delgado on the next play. NCT didn’t flinch after the costly mistake, forcing the Eagles to go three-and-out in less than two minutes. Coach Johns was sympathetic to the pick, saying “We ran that play once before against (Central) and it worked, having Fabian throw across his body, which is a very tough thing to do at any level.”
The Eagles (6-3) didn’t just show up to give NCT a win, however. The IB school off Mariner Blvd. kept pace with NCT all game, especially in the first half. After electing to receive the opening kick, Springstead proceeded to take off 6 minutes of the clock before punching it in by quarterback Nathan Sims from 1 yard out. Sims led the team in all-purpose yards, rushing for 155 yards on 29 carries and passing for 22 yards on only one attempt. He also added a score to put the Eagles up 14-7 right before the first quarter ended. In the first half, Springstead arguably held the ball for 19+ minutes, running bootlegs and fakes to keep NCT off its edge and force the adjustments.
The Sharks now await what transpires this weekend. While the win against Springstead does clinch yet another county championship for the “Crew on California Street”, according to Coach Johns, the Sharks are guaranteed a playoff spot with the win, but their opponent has yet to be determined. This weekend, Springstead plays Hernando, who won their game against Lecanto 54-0 to move their district record into a tie with NCT at 5-1. A loss by the Leopards puts them in a tie with the Sharks, and NCT holds the edge by the head-to-head matchup, which the Sharks won.
SELECTION PROCESS FOR 5A FHSAA PLAYOFFS: SUNDAY, 11/5/2017 @ 11AM. LIVE STREAMING ON NFHS.COM ONLY.