BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast gets arguably the most significant opportunity of its existence tonight on home turf.
Yes, the Sharks (5-0) have played in the playoffs, they have won a district title, they've even run circles around some local rivals in recent years. Consider all that stuff brick and mortar for a program still under construction in its fifth season.
A win tonight against South Sumter (6-0) in Brooksville would raise the roof in more ways than one.
"Beating South Sumter would be an exclamation point on what we've done so far," Sharks coach Jamie Joyner said. "If we could beat South Sumter it would prove to us we could play with anyone in the state. That's why you schedule South Sumter. … They're in your back yard. No one else plays them."
South Sumter vs. North Suncoast teams
The North Suncoast has distanced itself from playing South Sumter for various reasons. Scheduling conflicts are often cited. Raiders coach Inman Sherman said he wants schools such as Hernando and Pasco back on the schedule, and he wants to keep the Sharks as well.
"We want to play good teams that are aimed at the playoffs and doing things the right way," Sherman said. "We think those three are programs doing things the right way."
Hernando was the last North Suncoast team other than Nature Coast to face the Raiders, falling 49-12 in 2004. Those teams have met 13 times with the Raiders claiming a 10-3 edge in the series.
The last North Suncoast team to defeat South Sumter was Central in 1999, 34-33. It was a thrilling come-from-behind win with the Bears trailing 27-6 only to rally and score the winning touchdown in the final minute. The Raiders hold an 8-2 edge on the Bears.
Pasco had success burying the Raiders in two meetings in 1992 (44-19 and 37-0), the same season the Pirates went 14-0 en route to the Class 3A state title. The Raiders are ahead in that series 6-4. The only other North Suncoast team to play South Sumter is Zephyrhills, which is 0-3 against the Raiders and has not met them since '92.
Sherman's 200 and counting
Since 1984, Sherman has coached the Raiders and turned them into a state power, culminating in a Class 2A state finals berth in 2005. His teams have averaged 10.5 wins per season since 1999 and just 2.2 losses. He recently became the 14th coach in Florida to win 200 games at one school and holds a career record of 202-83. Joyner is 25-21 in his coaching career.
Better to be lucky?
Joyner's mantra this season is simple: "I'd rather be lucky than good."
Good thing Nature Coast appears to be both. The Sharks have survived two scares and likely will need some luck tonight.
Remember Nature Coast's 20-15 win against Springstead? The Eagles were 2 yards from a huge celebration when Springstead quarterback James Mahla fumbled late in the fourth quarter.
"Our kids could have given up," Joyner said. "I told our defensive coordinator I thought about letting (the Eagles) score. They put the ball on the ground and we're on it."
Then came an 18-17 win in Dade City where Nature Coast converted a two-point conversion to take the lead. Pasco's ensuing possession saw Pirates senior Josh Johnson break free on first and 10 from the Pirates' 30. He raced inside the Sharks' 20 before he was caught attempting a lateral, which Nature Coast recovered.
"If you've seen us play we've had a couple of those ourselves," Sherman said. "Sometimes those things are going to go your way."