SPRING HILL — The game still had a minute left, but on the sidelines Springstead players already dumped buckets of ice on the trampled grass. They knew they would have reason to celebrate.
The Eagles defeated Gainesville 27-7 Friday to advance to the 6A region finals. They’ll face Armwood in the next round.
Springstead is the first team in Hernando County history to make it to the third round, coach Mike Garofano said.
Springstead is the only North Suncoast team still in the playoffs. Addressing his players after the game, Garofano said the Eagles have never had 11 wins in a season and have never won 11 times in a row.
“Let’s keep it going,” he said.
Daniel Wright scored two of the Eagles’ four touchdowns despite a bruised knee. He was taken off the field on a stretcher last week, but he said it didn’t bother him at all against Gainesville.
“He’s got the heart,” Garofano said, “and he’s got the toughness.”
Gainesville standout Tony James, a 2014 Oregon commit, was sidelined for the game.
Springstead took the lead early. Just a couple of minutes in, Tyler Mahla threw a 25-yard pass to Joe Jeffords for a touchdown. Tyler Toth’s point after was good.
The Eagles’ defense took a hit, however, on Gainesville’s next drive. Springstead linebacker Juan Espinosa was carried off on a stretcher with his leg in a splint.
The second quarter began with Springstead leading, but a 41-yard run by Gainesville’s Ahmad Ivey put the Hurricanes at the Eagles’ 26.
Tamarcus Faulkner IV eventually rushed 1 yard for the touchdown, and Alex Holloway kicked the extra point.
It seemed Springstead would go into halftime with the score tied, but the Eagles didn’t let up. With 17 seconds left in the half, Wright caught a 22-yard pass from Mahla for another touchdown.
On the Eagles’ first drive of the second half, Jeffords threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Anderson. The Eagles missed the extra point but led 20-7 going into the fourth quarter.
Coaching assistants murmured to one another that all they needed to do was to hold onto the ball.
“Careful,” one assistant called to the defensive line. “They’re getting pass-happy.”
The Eagles did more than hang onto the ball. With a little more than a minute left in the game, Springstead had first and goal from the 8.
Wright rushed the final yard on third down, and Toth’s kick was good, securing the victory.
Garofano said though he was pleased with his team’s performance, their turnovers in the first half were cause for concern.
“There’s still things to correct,” he said. “We’ll watch the film.”
Regardless, he told his players they needed to take time to celebrate.
“I love making history,” Wright, surrounded by family after the game, said with a grin, “especially with this team.”