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Football: Hernando 14, Nature Coast 7

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Sat. October 27, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

Football: Hernando 14, Nature Coast 7

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BROOKSVILLE — After last week’s disappointing defeat to Springstead punctured Hernando’s hopes of a second consecutive district title, the Leopards needed a quick recovery and a reminder of what has fueled their recent renaissance — hard hitting and a swarming defense.

Hernando responded Friday night with a reignited passion and bone-jarring hits in a comeback 14-7 win over rival Nature Coast. The victory clinched the Leopards’ third consecutive playoff appearance and washed away any lingering effects from last week’s loss.

“I think it was a wake-up for us,” Hernando linebacker/fullback Jeremiah Jackson said. “We need to get back to the old Hernando.”

The old Hernando (5-4, 5-1) is a team of speedy runners and bruising hitters that controlled Friday’s must-win game for Nature Coast (5-4, 4-2). The Leopards allowed only two first downs in the first half — and one of those came on a pair of costly personal fouls. Those penalties pushed the Sharks deep into Hernando territory and allowed them to take a 7-0 lead with a 3-yard touchdown rush by senior running back Matt Breida.

But Breida and the Sharks couldn’t get much offense after that. Breida — the Division I recruit and Tampa Bay’s No. 2 rusher — mustered only 61 yards before leaving the game after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the third quarter. He said after the contest that he was fine, and Sharks coach Charles Liggett said he’ll be re-evaluated before next week’s game.

Hernando started its comeback immediately after allowing its only score. Jackson recovered a fumble to turn the game’s momentum for good.

“When the momentum switched,” Liggett said, “it just never came back.”

The Leopards scored two series later, thanks to a crucial, 50-yard third-and-long halfback pass from Tyrail Hawkins to KD Hagood. That and a 30-yard rush by Quentin Adams set up Jackson’s fourth-down, 1-yard rush that tied the game.

Hernando took the lead late in the third quarter when Hawkins finally broke loose. The Division I athlete took a short slant pass from quarterback Ra’shaad Hart and darted 72 yards into the end zone for his eighth touchdown of the season and the go-ahead score.

“Ra’shaad threw a perfect pass,” Hawkins said. “I just turned upfield and put the burners on.”

The Leopards’ defense made sure NCT couldn’t come back. Hernando tallied six sacks — two by Jackson, three by Robert Hill Bronson and one by Missouri commit Darren Hambrick — to stay in front. The Sharks gained only 114 total yards and tallied only four plays of at least 10 yards.

“They wanted it more, and they played hard,” first-year Leopards coach Dwayne Mobley said of his team. “They didn’t give up.”

NCT had two final last-gasp chances, after Joey Berrios’ fumble recovery and defensive stop in the closing minutes. But Troy Hambrick intercepted a pass deep in his own territory with nine seconds left to send the Leopards back to the playoffs for the fourth time since 2005.

Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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