BROOKSVILLE — In his third season as Hernando coach, Mark Latsko has learned a couple things.
One is that his roster is going to include a lot of football players. The other is that the football team is pretty good.
With that being the case, Latsko decided to wait until Friday night to hold the Leopards' season opener while most other programs in the area had already begun their schedules.
"The last couple of seasons I broke my back trying to install an offense and a defense during the preseason," Latsko said. "I just wasn't going to do that this year."
One of those gridiron stars made a significant impact in Hernando's 44-41 win over Class 4A, District 8 rival Sunlake.
Derek Wilson, who finished with 18 points, made clutch plays down the stretch as the Leopards (1-0) pulled out their first contest.
Neither team had a very good game offensively, but it was Hernando that was hampered by foul trouble for much of the game. Alvin Delaine, Thomas Bronson, Terrance Owens and Taylor Owensby all sat for significant stretches.
"We were a little over-aggressive tonight," Latsko said. "It's exciting to think about what we have down the line."
Each time the starters were taken out, Sunlake (3-2) was able to retake the lead with a run of its own behind the strong play of Pedro Pabon (13 points, seven rebounds). The Seahawks held a 33-30 lead going into the fourth quarter when Latsko decided to re-enter his starting five.
Delaine and Owens played the final quarter with four fouls but never fouled out. After Sunlake's Travis Doyel snatched his own offensive rebound to tie the score at 41, Hernando called timeout with 34 seconds remaining to draw up a play.
With terrific ball movement, the Leopards drained the clock down to six seconds before swinging the ball into the hands of Wilson about 3 feet behind the 3-point line at the elbow. The game's leading scorer, who had missed his last six free-throw attempts, knocked down the fade-away jumper to win it.