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Pirates get a rest for their biggest test

Running the Crystal River offense doesn't take a Ph.D., nor does drawing up plays require a slide rule. It is a system that is very basic in what it does, yet as precise as a brain surgeon in its execution.

So when the Pirates (8-0) decided to take Thursday off, the decision wasn't one of complacency or a sign the Class 4A, No. 2-ranked Pirates are taking tonight's 7:30 matchup with No. 5 Hernando at Pirate Stadium lightly.

Instead, it is a testament to the coaching abilities of Earl Bramlett's staff and the aptitude of his players. At this point in the season _ specifically for this game _ a little rest will probably do more good than a casual Thursday walk-through.

"About the middle of the season we stop practicing on Thursday," Bramlett said. "At this point the kids are all in shape and they know what they need to do. Thursday's are usually a walk-through day anyway, so we just decided to let the kids rest their legs. And we're going to need all the legs we can get."

Bramlett isn't exaggerating. Few teams in the state can boast of the speed Hernando has, and that isn't even counting nationally acclaimed sprinter John Capel. Hernando probably will be a couple of steps ahead at nearly every position tonight. But will that necessarily give them the advantage?

Crystal River is playing at home and will likely be boosted by one of the largest crowds on record (even larger than last year's playoff games thanks to a Hernando fan base that travels well). Then there is the coach and his system. In eight straight wins it has been flawless, and in some (against South Lake and Eustis) it has dealt with speed.

But this kind of speed? And at this many positions?

"Let's put it this way: If we both had relay teams, they would beat our relay team," Bramlett said. "But we're not going to do anything different for this game. We'll stay with what got us this far. They've got some players that can make some big plays, but we'll just try to give a little here and there and try not to give up too many big plays."

It's a relatively simple philosophy and one the Pirates carry into every game, no matter the opponent. However, it should receive its biggest test tonight since a second-round playoff game against nationally ranked Jacksonville Bolles last fall.

If you like weapons, especially the variety prone to big, flashy pyrotechnics, then you have to love the Leopards. In eight games, Hernando has outscored opponents by the whopping margin of 300-71 and has done it with a number of plays of 50 yards or longer.

Many of those plays have come from the speedy Capel, who leads the team with 613 yards on the ground (10 touchdowns) for an average of 10.6 yards per carry. Joining him in one of the most complete backfields on the North Suncoast are Johnnie Thompson (546 yards, seven TDs, 7.9 average) and Jamar Williams (202 yards, five TDs, 10.6 avg.), who are just as likely to break off a long gain.

But the Leopards are hardly one-dimensional. In fact, they are clearly a three-dimensional team with a passing attack and defense that are equally responsible for their success this year.

Brandon Browning leads all North Suncoast quarterbacks with 845 yards and has completed 71 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns with three interceptions. Capel, who also plays wideout, and speedy teammate Eric Kincade have combined for 28 receptions (14 apiece), 537 yards and six touchdowns.

What is easily overlooked given the high power of its offense is the Hernando defense, which was pivotal in last week's 20-8 win over district rival and seventh-ranked (second at the time) Zephyrhills. Bramlett, though, will make no such mistake.

"They've got an exceptional team. They all can play," Bramlett said. "But what I think a lot of people don't realize is that they have a great defense. They've got quickness and good size. With their speed, they can run around back there and take the big plays away from you."


Two of the four remaining unbeaten football teams in Class 4A are scheduled to meet tonight in Crystal River:

Crystal River 8-0

Hernando 7-0

Glades Central 7-0

Jacksonville Raines 7-0