MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
District 6A-6: Hernando clinched its first district title since 1997 with a 35-14 win over Nature Coast on Friday. Sunlake secured therunnerup spot with its 20-13 victory over River Ridge to give the Seahawks their first trip to the playoffs in school history. That means that Land O'Lakes' 14-year playoff streak is officially over.
District 5A-6: Pasco remains in position for the district title after its thrashing of Ridgewood and can seal it with a win over Zephyrhills this week. Fivay's thrilling 48-42 win over Zephyrhills likely sends the Falcons to the postseason. But the Bulldogs can still make the playoffs if it upsets the Pirates this week to force a three-way tie for first with Pasco and Fivay.
Nature Coast quarterback Ryan Maniaci was diagnosed with a concussion but no other major injuries after suffering a hit during the Sharks' 35-14 loss to Hernando, coach Charles Liggett said. Maniaci's head was slammed into the ground on a third-down sack with a few minutes left. Officials called the game after the injury to the senior, who was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Maniaci had feeling in his extremities and was talking on the field. Liggett said Maniaci was okay, other than the concussion and soreness.
Land O'Lakes routs Central: The Gators dominated the winless Bears in a 52-3 homecoming victory. Freshman Ethan Weilant started at quarterback because Ryan Bird sat out with a separated shoulder. Weilant impressed in his first varsity start, opening the scoring with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Wesley Moore in the first quarter. He started the game 5-for-5 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Gators running back Harrison Wood added a 4-yard TD run. Land O'Lakes (5-3) learned that it would miss the state playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons thanks to Sunlake's victory, and linebacker Shadow Williams was added to the injured list (left ankle strain).
Anclote blanks Wesley Chapel: A once-promising season for Wesley Chapel is slipping away. The Wildcats (4-4) were shut out 13-0 by Anclote as the Sharks won for the third time in four games after an 0-4 start. Anclote (3-5) celebrated homecoming with impressive defense and the offense was able to translate turnovers into scores. Coach Ben Alford characterized the effort of his Wildcats as "lackadaisical."
What we learned
Hernando's turnaround is complete: When head coach John Palmer was hired in 2008, his alma mater hadn't had a winning season since 2002. He built the Leopards up, and on Friday night they clinched the one thing that had been missing: a district title. Hernando's linemen dominated on both sides of the ball in a 35-14 victory over rival Nature Coast that secured the District 6A-6 championship, the Leopards' first since 1997.
Fivay vs. Zephyrhills was the Game of the Year: In a game full of big plays and breakout stars, the high scoring would have been enough, but when the Falcons came back from nine points down with only five minutes left to win 48-42, they put themselves in the driver's seat for a playoff berth. No one is going to tell Chris Taylor and company they don't belong after bouncing back from a 53-point loss to Pasco last week.
Sunlake is clutch: The Seahawks' physical defense stopped River Ridge at the 2-yard line on the final play of the game to seal a 20-14 victory and send Sunlake to the playoffs for the first time in school history. A few miscues gave the Royal Knights a final chance, butSunlake made a play when it counted to prove that it has emerged as one of the county's top teams. The Seahawks have done this before, too, using a late TD pass to knock off Nature Coast and clutch defense to beat Land O'Lakes.
m WR James Bullock, Fivay: Bullock, right, had 15 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, but the crucial moment came when Tyler Degen tossed a jump ball to the standout receiver with 2:19 left in the game, down by two points. Bullock came down with theunderthrown ball at the 14-yard line and cruised into the end zone for the winning score against Zephyrhills.
Hernando's linemen: Malcolm Hudson, Andrew Timmons and the rest of the Leopards' big men controlled the first half. Hernando averaged almost 7 yards per carry on offense and held Nature Coast to minus-3 yards in the first half.
FB Mordell Holley, Mitchell: He rushed for two touchdowns, including a 3-yarder in the fourth quarter that became the winner, in a 21-20 win over Springstead.
QB Chris Klyap, Gulf: The speedy passer had a long scoring run and led the offense efficiently in the Buccaneers' 33-17 win over Hudson.
QB Ryan Maniaci, Nature Coast: The Sharks backup led a second-half rally and threw a fourth-down touchdown pass to Richard Hart that made it a two-score game.
K Preston Merritt Central: His 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of a loss to Land O'Lakes ended a 13-quarter scoreless streak for the Bears.
DB/KR Adrian Sanchez, Zephyrhills: In the first quarter, he ran back a kickoff 94 yards to tie the score at 14. He followed that by scooping a fumble at the 3-yard line in the second quarter and bringing it back 97 yards to put his squad up 28-21.
QB Cameron Stoltz, Sunlake: He threw for three touchdowns in a pivotal 20-13 win over River Ridge that clinched the Seahawks' first trip to the playoffs.
QB Ethan Weilant, Land O'Lakes: The freshman was pressed into his first varsity start because of an injury to the starter Ryan Bird. All he did was complete his first five passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for another score.
Times correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere contributed to this report.