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BROOKSVILLE — Hernando provided some clarity to a topsy-turvy Class 6A, District 6 on Friday night.
The defending champion used two touchdowns from do-it-all athlete Tyrail Hawkins and two late stops by one of the North Suncoast’s stingiest defenses to cap off senior night with a 14-10 home victory over Sunlake.
“We did what we needed to do,” first-year coach Dwayne Mobley said.
And it the Leopards (4-3, 4-0) extended their district win streak to 16 games, heading into next week’s homecoming battle with undefeated Springstead.
It wasn’t easy.
Hernando scored first on an opening 85-yard drive, thanks to two 30-plus-yard rushes by quarterback Ra’shaad Hart, who finished with a team-high 155 yards. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Hawkins.
Sunlake (4-2, 2-2) answered immediately. Standout senior Eddie Burgos ran 67 yards in three plays against a defense that allowed only 35 rushing yards last week. Burgos capped it off with a 7-yard rush — his ninth of the season — to tie the game. Burgos finished with 113 yards to secure his fourth 100-yard game of the season against a defense that has only allowed 23 points in four district games.
The Seahawks’ defense and special teams controlled Hernando for the next two quarters. After a bad snap on a punt, Sunlake took over at the Leopard 24 and came away with a 37-yard field goal by Connor Gilboy to go ahead 10-7. Hernando fumbled twice in those quarters, failed on a fourth-down attempt and gained only three first downs.
The Leopards picked up a break of their own when Troy Hambrick blocked a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter. And the offense kept pounding the ball with Hawkins, waiting for a big play to burst.
“With Tyrail, you don’t know when it’s going to happen,” said Mobley, who was inducted into his alma mater’s athletic hall of fame at halftime. “It’s liable to happen at any time.”
It finally happened in the fourth quarter.
Hawkins took a pitch 40 yards for a first down on the first play of the fourth quarter. Five plays later, he picked up a key block from Robert Hill Bronson and danced 17 yards into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 8:58 left.
“Eventually it’ll pop,” said Hawkins, who finished with 70 rushing yards and 46 receiving yards.
Sunlake had two more key chances to steal the win and avenge last year’s 22-7 loss that relegated the Seahawks to the No. 2 spot in the district.
Another high snap on a Hernando punt let Sunlake take over at the Leopard 28. Hawkins broke up two passes but was called for defensive pass interference on the third.
But his teammates bailed out the Division I recruit on the next play. Junior linebacker KD Hagood tipped a Josh Zifer pass to junior linebacker Jeremiah Jackson, who picked it off inside his own 5.
“All I saw was the ball,” Jackson said. “I knew this had to be a play I had to make for us to win the game.”
Hernando went three-and-out on the next drive, giving Sunlake one final shot from the Leopard 47.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Hawkins said. “My heart was starting to beat fast, though. But I wasn’t too worried about it.”
The Seahawks picked up a defensive pass interference, but Hart intercepted Zifer’s Hail Mary into the end zone.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com.