There are at least three good reasons for Crystal River's football team to beat Eustis tonight. And that takes into account only the obvious.
First, there is Homecoming.
Second, there is pride.
Third, winning feels a whole lot better than losing.
Crystal River (5-1) has invited Eustis (1-4) to celebrate its homecoming at 7:30 tonight at Pirates Stadium. And though the crowning event takes place at halftime, the football team is most concerned with what goes on for the 24 minutes before, and after.
The Pirates will be fighting the usual distractions _ parade marching, pep rally cheering, float making, corsage buying, and _ ugh _ dance anticipation. And it's all been crammed into a four-day week.
"We're rushed," Crystal River coach Earl Bramlett said Tuesday. "Homecoming is a little distracting, but the kids like it. If we didn't have to play the game I would have more fun."
But homecoming, if its distractions can be overcome, is a wonderful game to win. And a terrible game to lose.
Which leads us to reason No.2 _ pride.
Crystal River, in the throes of a losing season, lost 14-0 at Eustis last year. The Pirates are obviously a different team this year, and would like nothing more than to show the Panthers how much they've changed.
But even more important is to prove to Pirate fans that their team can rebound from last week's 20-0 loss at South Sumter, in which Crystal River generated precious little offense to threaten the Raiders.
"It's not the end of the world; we've been beaten before, and we'll probably be beaten again," Bramlett said, looking at the big picture. "We'll bounce back."
And Eustis may be just the right springboard.
The Panthers, who won their first game of the season last week over South Lake, 38-0, have every reason not to win. It's a long bus ride to a non-district game. And it falls one week before a key Class 3A, District 9 game against Tavares.
In a four-team district, much like 3A-6, the Panthers are hoping to be one of two teams to advance to the playoffs. Fortunately, Eustis' one victory of the season came in its first district game. Mount Dora leads the league, leaving Eustis and Tavares to battle for that second spot.
The two teams do, however, share one common motivating factor: As each discovered last week, winning definitely beats losing.
TONIGHT'S FOOTBALL GAME
Eustis at Crystal River
Time and site: 7:30 p.m.; Pirates Stadium, on the Crystal River High campus on NE Eighth Avenue off County Road 44 in Crystal River.
Radio: WXCV, 95.3-FM, Crystal River.
Records: Eustis 1-4, Crystal River 5-1.
Last year: Eustis 14, Crystal River 0.
Key points: Eustis got its first victory of the season last week in a 38-0 thumping of South Lake, a team Crystal River beat 20-6 two weeks ago. Crystal River is coming off a disappointing 20-0 loss at South Sumter last week, in which the Pirates mustered little offense to challenge the Raiders for the lead in the Class 3A, District 6 race. Crystal River will hope to rebound with its running game, which totaled only 100 yards on 33 carries against South Sumter. The Pirates had been averaging about 200 yards rushing per game before last week. The Panthers are led by running back Jeff Williams, whose season total of 257 yards was bolstered by a 139-yard effort last week that included a 93-yard touchdown run. Eustis prefers running the ball. Quarterback Maurice Hayes has not thrown a touchdown pass but has two running touchdowns and two two-point conversions. Both teams will have to avoid looking past what is obviously a non-district, non-conference game. The Pirates may be inspired by homecoming festivities and the chance to redeem themselves after last week and last year against the Panthers. Eustis, however, could easily be looking ahead to next week's game with 3A-9 opponent Tavares. Like 3A-6, 3A-9 is a four-team district that will send two of its teams to the playoffs.
Prediction: Crystal River 28, Eustis 6.