The loud rumbling north of the Pasco County line should not be ignored.
Two of the North Suncoast’s top football teams reside in Hernando County, and both picked up impressive wins last week, disposing of their opponents with the efficiency of a processing plant.
Nature Coast and Hernando were expected to be good this season, but they appeared great in victories against Central and Springstead, respectively.
There was plenty to dissect from last week’s performances, indicators of how these Class 3A, District 6 rivals might fare this season.
The bad for Nature Coast: Nature Coast did not complete a pass against the Bears. This is not a huge surprise considering the Sharks’ top receiver is quarterback Ja’Juan Story. The Florida commitment could probably throw passes to himself if coach Mark Nash would draw up a play, but Story’s strength is his ability to run. He did plenty of that last week, rushing eight times for 232 yards and four touchdowns.
The passing game can be nonexistent against foes like Central, but a one-dimensional offense won’t cut it against stiffer competition.
The bad for Hernando: The Leopards were slow starters last week and allowed Springstead to pound out a 14-play, 61-yard drive before forcing the Eagles to kick a 34-yard field goal. The drive ate up almost eight minutes of the first quarter and could have been trouble for the defense. The Leopards responded with a 14-play, 53-yard drive that ate up half of the second quarter, a drive capped by Tyrail Hawkins’ touchdown pass to Alvin Delaine for a 6-3 lead and momentum shift.
Long drives can help one unit and deplete another. The Leopards have to be efficient on both sides of the ball and need to show equal intensity throughout, or a more powerful opponent might pounce.
The good for Nature Coast: There were questions on defense, but many were answered last week. The Sharks held Central to 167 yards of total offense, forced five fumbles and two turnovers and held Central scoreless in the first half. Sharks sophomore linebacker Joey Berrios led with 15 tackles and collected one of four Sharks sacks. Berrios also caused a fumble and had a fumble recovery in a huge first start.
If the Sharks defense can replicate this effort weekly, Nature Coast should have no trouble contending for the district title.
The good for Hernando: The diversity of the running game was evident with the Leopards pounding and weaving a trio of capable running backs at Springstead’s defense. Of course, Delaine is a known quantity and finished with 16 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown. He also had three receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown. Then there was fullback Marlin Smith, who had nine carries for 43 hard-fought yards. And junior running back Demarcus Maner had five carries for 32 yards and a score.
Delaine was the Leopards’ lone offensive weapon in 2009. With various options this season, Hernando no longer needs to rely on the senior on every key play.
Nature Coast’s breakout star: Any questions about Nature Coast’s rushing attack not answered by Story were backed up by senior running back Isaac Bailey, who ran 15 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Bailey’s task is to replace former Sharks star Tevin Drake, who finished second all-time in North Suncoast rushing with 4,981 career yards and 69 touchdowns.
Just like Delaine for Hernando, Bailey’s emergence as a bona fide replacement for Drake gives the Sharks a much needed option on offense. Without a proven passing game it will be Bailey and Story carrying the offense.
Hernando’s breakout star: No more questions about Hernando’s quarterback situation. The Leopards unveiled sophomore Hawkins, who completed just 3-of-4 passes for 27 yards and a touchdown, but did the most damage with his feet. Hawkins had five carries for 119 yards, highlighted by a 90-yard touchdown run. Hawkins was everything he needed to be in his first big game — accurate, quick and poised.
Arguably Hernando’s biggest weakness last season was the lack of a talented quarterback. Hawkins’ skills will help take pressure off of Delaine and make Hernando a more quality offense.