SPRING HILL — There’s what you see on film, and there’s what actually lines up across the ball.
The overwhelming size and strength of Ocala Vanguard spelled a 31-8 defeat for Springstead in Friday night’s Class 6A region quarterfinal at Booster Stadium.
When Springstead (9-2) learned it would host the fourth state playoff game in school history, the Eagles prepared for Vanguard (6-5), but the reality of going against a roster loaded with size (16 players taller than 6 feet and five weighing more than 250 pounds) is not the same as being feet away from those players when the whistle blows. By comparison, the Eagles have only four players taller than 6 feet and three weighing more than 250.
Led by senior offensive lineman Quandre Kinsler (6-6, 380 pounds), the interior line of the Knights dominated. Springstead, which leaned on its stellar defense all season, couldn’t get to Vanguard quarterback Adam Robles and touched him only one time, a sack by Luke McLeod. Robles was 17-of-27 for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
“We played too loose in the secondary, and we needed to get more pressure on the quarterback,” McLeod said. “They had a great line. It was difficult getting in there.”
The line also opened holes for the running back tandem of Reshard Sweet (14 carries, 86 yards, one touchdown) and Master Bracey (15 carries, 96 yards, one touchdown).
On the other side of the ball, it was the ability of linebacker Kyle Sandner to read Springstead’s read-option that foiled the Eagles. Daniel Wright (14 carries, 45 yards, one touchdown) averaged only 3.3 yards per carry, and Tyler Mahla (7-of-17, 56 yards, nine carries, 40 yards) seemed rattled early, missing open receivers on first-half drives.
“They were big and fast, but I knew what I was going to do,” Springstead offensive lineman Will Allen said. “With our coaching staff, it’s hard to be unprepared. I’ve never been a part of anything this big, and I’ll never live with any regret.”
With his five tackles, including one for a loss and his sack, McLeod led the Springstead defense once again. The senior finished the season with 138 tackles and two sacks. He also had a pass slip through his hands in the third quarter.
Despite the losses of seniors McLeod and Allen, the Eagles will return many pieces next season. Coach Bill Vonada hopes that this loss, which moves the program to 0-4 at home in the postseason, only prolongs an eventual victory at Booster Stadium.
“The players understand the commitment level that it takes now,” Vonada said. “We have a good nucleus coming back, and with the right attitude we have an opportunity to get back here.”