BROOKSVILLE — The pressure simmered all week.
Nature Coast players, coaches and alumni knew junior running back Matt Breida would break Hernando County’s single-game rushing record at Central.
“It was a given,” quarterback Thomas Carney said.
A handful of factors united last Friday for Breida and Nature Coast, which hosts River Ridge tonight. Years of training, two major pep talks and an offense that clicked against a struggling opponent added up to one of the top performances in North Suncoast history: 14 carries, 355 yards and six touchdowns.
This is how it happened.
First and 10, Central 26
After a sloppy loss to Dunnellon the week before, Nature Coast needs to make a statement. Coaches pleaded with the offensive line before Monday’s practice to show they weren’t headed for another 5-5 season.
“We lost two in a row,” tight end Sam Mazzia said, “and we wanted to have a breakout game.”
A matchup with a battered Bears team that gave up 120 points in three previous games provided a good opportunity. Breida received Facebook messages and texts all week from former Sharks stars like Tevin Drake and Ja’Juan Story urging him to make history.
“People were expecting me to get the record,” Breida said.
On his first carry, Breida blows through a gaping hole in the middle and bounces left. Maybe it’s the pressure, or maybe it’s the field, but he trips after 9 yards. No one is near him.
Fourth and goal, Central 2
The offensive line is ready.
Monday’s pep talk fueled a strong week of practice. Linemen spent more time in the film room. They communicated better and pointed out blocking assignments. The tempo increased.
“It just clicks sometimes,” Mazzia said.
Skip six carries to the second quarter. The running back takes a pitch right, and the line muscles open a big hole.
Breida follows his blocks and drives into the end zone for his first score of the night.
First and 10, NCT 30
The Sharks are struggling.
Nature Coast leads 14-0 but lucked out on a punt return for a score and a Central fumble inside the 10. Breida has eight rushes for 85 yards — good, but not historic.
“Our offense wasn’t clicking from the get-go,” Breida said.
At halftime, coach Charles Liggett challenged the team to show that it’s a district title contender, not a .500 squad. The Sharks need a spark.
Breida lines up for a power run up the middle — 44 Iso — to start the third quarter. Mazzia, the tight end, motions over. When the line splits, Mazzia must block the middle linebacker one on one.
“If he sealed that guy,” Breida said, “I would do the rest from there.”
Breida takes the handoff. Because they’ve played together since fifth grade, Mazzia knows Breida likes to cut left. The tight end pushes the defender right, opening a rushing lane to the other side.
Breida sees the hole, cuts to his favorite side and sees open field. His quickness kicks in.
“He’s just so fast,” Carney said.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Breida always has been.
He has run track since middle school and practices 10-yard bursts and 100-yard sprints in the summer. Coaches have clocked his 40-yard dash at 4.3 seconds.
“Speed always comes natural to me,” Breida said.
No one catches him here, and he races 70 yards for a touchdown. Nature Coast gets its spark.
Third and 6, NCT 32
Breida was blessed with speed, but he has needed years in the weight room to develop power.
When he was 7, his team did a drill called the gauntlet. The ball carrier had to plow through two defenders, then two more, then two more before a one-on-one matchup with the biggest kid on the team.
No one wanted to face him. Breida drove him back.
“I just jumped in the middle and went,” Breida said.
Nine years later, past three more rushes and two touchdowns, an unblocked linebacker flies at Breida from the right. The defender wraps his arms around the runner’s waist, but Breida powers through, sheds the tackler and rumbles for a 68-yard score.
First and 10, NCT 27
The Sharks lead 44-0 in the fourth quarter, and starters head to the bench. Coaches think Breida is about 40 yards from the record, so they keep him in for one last drive.
“He’s a kid that deserves something like that,” Liggett said.
Breida takes a pitch to the right and sees history ahead.
Sophomore receiver Ryan Roscillo seals a defender, leaving a hole inside for Breida. Roscillo sees a blur go by.
“I don’t know how that kid does that,” Roscillo said.
Breida sprints 73 yards untouched. He turns around after reaching the end zone, throws the ball to the referee and jumps toward a teammate before heading to the bench for good.
“Just excitement,” Breida said.
Coaches think Breida set a county record, but St. Petersburg Times archives show he came up 8 yards short.
The game ends in a 52-0 rout. Teammates call him record breaker on the bus ride home. Breida feels relieved.
The Sharks return to Nature Coast, and Breida sits at his locker to soak it all in — his 355-yard night and everything that clicked for it to happen.
“All right,” Breida tells himself. “Time to move on.”
Staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.