BROOKSVILLE — Just when it looked like Class 5A, District 6 was starting to fall into place, another twist was thrown into the mix Friday night at Tom Fisher Stadium.
Nature Coast, fresh off of last week's upset of preseason favorite Pasco, was held in check by Hernando in a 20-13 loss.
The Sharks (2-3, 2-1) turned the ball over on the second play from scrimmage, a backward lateral from quarterback Ryan Quigley that Hernando linebacker Steven Delaine recovered on the Nature Coast 31. A 26-yard pass from Tyler Kline to Derrell Holland put the Leopards (2-3, 2-0) on the goal line, from where Kline punched it in for the touchdown. The extra point was no good.
"Tyler's ability to throw the ball was so important," Hernando coach Dwayne Mobley said. "He stepped up and played well."
Nature Coast answered on the next possession in large part due to a solid kick return from Cameron Syblis and 35 yards in penalties from Hernando. C.J. Maner (20 carries, 56 yards) capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. And after another failed extra point, the score was 6-6.
The run defenses locked down throughout. Neither team could gain a leg up as Nature Coast was missing its leading rusher, DeShawn Smith, for most of the night to a knee injury suffered at the end of the Pasco game.
Hernando's leading rusher, Ra'shaad Hart, did not play in the second half after twisting his ankle during a 19-yard run in the second quarter.
Hart's two carries for 30 yards were, by far, the most success any player had on the ground. And with him at quarterback, the Leopards gained 40 yards on three carries. Without him, they gained only 86 yards on 37 carries (an average of 2.3).
Hernando's Jeremiah Jackson, who had 52 tackles in four games coming into the night, stepped up to play an increased role in the backfield.
After carrying the ball only twice all season, he had six carries for 32 yards, including two big first downs during a second-quarter drive that pushed the lead to 20-6.
Jackson also was the leader of a defense that held Nature Coast to 2.4 yards per carry, 42 carries for 114 yards.
"We've had the same mentality all season: Take it one game at a time," Jackson said. "We knew that this would be a big game, and we weren't about to let anyone come into our house and run the ball on our defense."