Two days after Lecanto head coach Ron Cline talked of his players' "never-say-die spirit," his Panthers pulled off a gritty 16-8 upset of Class 3A, District 4 title contender South Sumter Friday night. It was Lecanto's first win since the 1988 season, a losing streak that spanned 17 games.
"We went into this football game to win it," Cline said. "We had five scars on our backs, and I challenged these kids that if they wanted to win that bad, if they were tired of losing, if they could play with confidence, they could win."
The Panthers defense was called on to preserve the win three times in the final period, and each time it delivered.
First, the Raiders were stopped at the 5-yard-line, and Mark Mohrmann got a hand on a 22-yard field goal attempt.
Then a fourth-and-20 pass fell incomplete in the end zone, and Lecanto took over at their own 29 with 1:38 left to play.
The Raiders, without any time outs remaining, could only watch as Lecanto attempted to run out the clock.
But then came the fumble.
Looking confused on the handoff, backup quarterback J.J. Reynolds and running back Mark McTarsney made a shaky exchange. South Sumter's Dexter Brooks wrestled the bobbled ball out of McTarsney's arms.
South Sumter had possession at the Lecanto 27 with 56 seconds left.
Quarterback Tim Dorsey picked up eight yards on first down, plus half the distance to the goal on a late hit penalty, giving the Raiders first-and-goal from just inside the 10.
But the Panthers refused to give in. They tackled Joe Freeman for a two-yard loss, and ran Roosevelt Sydnor out of bounds for a six-yard loss.
On third-and-goal from the 17, the Raiders missed the initial handoff, and Dorsey tried a desperation pitch to Sydnor. The ball bounced twice and all Sydnor could do was fall on it in front of a swarm of Panther defenders.
Dorsey, having lost track of the downs, tried to stop the clock with a pass out of bounds. The fourth-down effort gave the ball back to Lecanto with one second left.
And the celebration began.
Air attack: Sophomore quarterback Willis O'Steen completed 11 of 21 passes for 142 yards and one touchdown for Lecanto, by far his best performance of the season.
On a third-and-goal from the Raiders' 11, O'Steen rolled out to his left, squared his shoulders and delivered a strike to wide out Chad Darling in the end zone.
O'Steen also connected with wide receiver C.J. Natteal for 36- and 41-yard completions. Both receptions sustained drives that led to 26- and 36-yard field goals by Brian Bova.
O'Steen, however, left the game with and ankle injury with five minutes to play. X-rays were scheduled to be taken Friday night.
TAMPA _ A critical penalty call went against Hernando High and turned the tide in Tampa Jesuit's favor during the fourth quarter of the Tigers' 14-6 victory Friday night.
The victory allowed Jesuit (6-1 overall) to keep pace with fellow Class 3A, District 4 member Tampa Catholic in the chase behind league-leader Pasco (6-1, 6-1). Both Jesuit and Catholic are 5-1 in district play.
The Tigers and Crusaders also pulled away from South Sumter, which was upset by Lecanto. South Sumter had been tied for second with the two Tampa schools.
The win additionally allowed Jesuit to avenge a 35-0 loss to Hernando last season.
Jesuit led Hernando 7-6 at halftime on Jimmy Cook's 9-yard touchdown run and Chris Clamp's extra-point kick.
Hernando's best opportunity to take a second-half lead came on a drive that began when Chad Moore intercepted Jesuit quarterback Troy Kent at the Leopard 1 and returned 45 yards.
Six plays into the drive, the Leopards (2-4, 2-4) faced first-and-10 from the Tiger 32. Moore, who also played quarterback, ran an option sprint down the right sideline. As he approached the 20, Moore pitched to reserve tailback Eric Adams.
Adams made his way to the end zone, but the would-be touchdown was negated by a penalty.
Hernando coach Mike Imhoff said he was told the penalty was for having five players in the offensive backfield, a circumstance he deemed impossible because of the Leopards' double-flanker formation on the play. Imhoff also said he was told the infraction was caused by a player with a jersey number worn by none of the Leopards.
Instead of scoring, the Leopards were backed up by the 5-yard penalty and an ensuing 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for protesting the first call.
Two plays later, facing second-and-27 from the 50, Moore was hit by Keith Moore and intercepted by Mike McLaughlin.
Jesuit took over on the 50 and began a time-consuming, 13-play drive capped by Joe Seheult's plunge from the 1 with 37 seconds remaining.
_ TIM BUCKLEY
TAMPA _ The Tampa Catholic Crusaders defeated visiting district rival Zephyrhills 21-16 Friday night to improve their record to 6-1 overall and 5-1 in Class 3A, District 4.
The Crusaders took an early lead on a turnover by Zephyrhills. An errant pitch by Bulldogs' quarterback Marcus McCants fell short of running back Booker Pickett. The fumble was returned 21 yards by linebacker Willie Queen, giving Tampa Catholic a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Crusaders' offense accomplished very little during most of the first half. Tampa Catholic was held to only 65 yards in total offense during the first half, 64 of those yards coming on their touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the half.
In the closing moments of the first half, Tampa Catholic took a 14-0 lead. Junior quarterback Kevin Dawson connected with Jeyson Wilson on a 31-yard touchdown pass.
The Crusaders' defense held Zephyrhills to only 11 yards in total offense in the first half.
Zephyrhills scored 16 unanswered points in the second half.
_ RICHARD HALL
No coach of a 1-4 team could have expected a better beginning to Gulf's 20-18 victory over St. Petersburg-Boca Ciega Thursday.
Gulf rolled up 181 yards of total offense behind quarterback Willy Rueck, who completed his first six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Buccaneers stifled the Pirates on all but one play _ a 62-yard touchdown burst by Harry Grant that looked like a freak breakdown. Other than that play, Boca Ciega gained only 12 yards in the half and trailed 14-6.
The Pirate offense had only held the ball for 6:45 of the first 24 minutes of the game.
Utility man: Rueck has played tailback and defensive back. Friday night, he started at quarterback.
"I'll play him wherever we have to play him," Lofton said.
The speedy senior carried 14 times for 91 yards, mostly on bootleg plays. He also finished 8 for 10 passing for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
The second score proved just how valuable Rueck is at quarterback. Under pressure, he started to scramble. The Pirates defense, was suckered into charging Rueck.
Meanwhile, Kevin Adler worked his way wide open in the end zone. Rueck saw his teammate and lofted a perfect pass to Adler for the Bucs' final score.
"That's because he can scramble," Lofton said. "They knew they had to come to him."
_ STEVE PERSALL
Land O'Lakes notes
SPRING HILL _ Dawayne Roberts and Eric Sanders put together another rushing extravaganza in Springstead's 37-18 victory over visiting Land O'Lakes Friday night.
Roberts gained 174 yards on 23 carries, including touchdown runs of 38, 50, and 3 yards. Sanders carried 11 times for 104 yards, including touchdown runs of 4 and 20 yards. Sanders also caught a pass from Matt Weber for a two-point conversion and blocked a Gators punt, setting up a Roberts touchdown.
Weber also contributed for Springstead. Along with his two-point conversion pass, Weber ran for another two-point conversion and intercepted a pass from Gator back-up quarterback Grant Plamondon to set up Sanders' second touchdown.
Land O'Lakes relied on running back Robert Moses for its scoring. Moses scored on runs of 4, 1, and 7 yards. Moses had 64 yards on 15 carries.
Missing in the Gators' offensive attack was receiver Mike Viccione, who as of Friday led the North Suncoast in receiving with 23 receptions for 410 yards and six touchdowns. Viccione only caught one pass Friday, 41 yards from Plamondon late in the fourth quarter. The Gators only threw eight times on the night.
_ RICK GERSHMAN
Citrus, Dunnellon notes
Citrus coach Gene Roberts said he would have to review the game film before he could say what impact several new starters made in Friday's 19-6 win over Dunnellon.
Linebacker Shane Thomas missed the game while sitting out a suspension for disciplinary reasons. Two-way end David Veler was dismissed from the team during the week, also for disciplinary reasons.
Sophomore Rob Malpica did double duty for Citrus, rushing for 138 yards and one touchdown, and started in place of Thomas at linebacker.
Junior Chaz Berridy played tight end and sophomore Chad McDaniel was at defensive end in place of Veler. McDaniel was involved in several tackles and Berridy caught two passes for 22 yards.
The Citrus defense limited Dunnellon to 71 total yards. But penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct and pass interference late in the fourth quarter helped the Tigers complete a 70-yard drive for a touchdown.
The touchdown, a 10-yard pass from Lane Hendry to Nick Booker, were the first points scored by Dunnellon this year.
Dunnellon held Citrus to 186 total yards. The Tigers got fumble recoveries from Jon Waters and Ron Hudgins.
_ TERRY ORGAN
WACHULA _ Three Ridgewood interceptions all were turned into points by Hardee County in the Wildcats' 28-0 victory Friday.
In the first quarter on the Rams' third play, quarterback Ken Szilagy attempted his first pass and it was intercepted and returned for a Hardee score.
In the second quarter after the Rams blocked a Hardee field goal attempt, another Szilagy pass was picked off and returned to the 1-yard line.
At the end of the third quarter new Ridgewood quarterback Pete Melnick was intercepted, leading to a Hardee score.
Coach John Castelamare of Ridgewood was not pleased with the mistakes.
"We got off to a rough start and couldn't get it going. The mistakes hurt bad," Castelamare said.
The Rams defense limited Hardee to 221 total yards.
_ DON LEE
HUDSON _ Hudson backup quarterback David Billingsley scored on a 5-yard touchdown in a 46-24 loss to Tampa Robinson Thursday night. Billingsley replaced starter Bobby Fox, who left the game with a back injury. Fox is expected to miss at least one game.