When Hernando sprinter John Capel pulled up lame with a bad hamstring 20 meters into the 100-meter race at Friday's Gulf Coast Athletic Conference meet, coach Rodney Byrd told his team they'd all have to step up and fill the huge hole left by the absence of the nation's best high school sprinter.
The rest of the team heard Byrd loud and clear.
Overcoming a bad handoff that disqualified the team in one relay, Hernando's boys rallied in the final event _ the 4x400 relay _ to win by half a point over Central and earn the conference championship Friday night.
"Now they can't blame me; they know they can do it without me," Capel yelled to Byrd after his team had clinched the title.
Hernando scored 132.5 points, followed by Central with 132 points. Lecanto was third with 123 and Citrus finished fourth with 107.5.
"This is fun," Byrd said. "I like to see the kids compete and I love to see them step it up to the next level when they know they have to. They knew going in that we had to win the 4x400."
Hernando edged out Central 3:32.53 to 3:35.09 in the 4x400.
In the girls competition, Lecanto won the final race of the evening, but it wasn't enough to overtake a strong Central team.
The Bears won the girls championship with a score of 159.5. Lecanto was second with 154.5, followed by Dunnellon with 99 and Citrus and Hernando, who tied at 91.
"This is real big," Central coach Rick Munford said. "It's been eight years coming. My girls have been working really, really hard this year. We want to sweep to the regionals at least. We've got a real balanced team this year and that's what's important."
Citrus shot put thrower Zeb Bishop, who set a school record April 17, broke it again with a throw of 51-2 to earn first place.