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Bears claw way past Panthers

Central, minus coach Steve Crognale for the second quarter, edges Lecanto 9-7. Also, Hernando loses late to Crystal River.

Back spasms have kept Steve Crognale from seeing much of Central's team this spring. The Bears coach missed two weeks of practice and had to leave Friday night's jamboree after just one quarter.

But the Bears ended their spring drills with an effort to make their coach proud, edging Lecanto 9-7 with two of his favorite key ingredients: a steady running game and an opportunistic defense.

"It's tough, because Steve is our motivator," assistant coach Mark Griffith said. "Not having him around, well, just his presence around raises the intensity a little."

Central, which will lose a combined 1,317 rushing yards by graduating seniors Darrell Scott and John Willis, showed surprising depth in the backfield. Junior Jerry Daniels was hampered by a lingering hamstring injury, but three young players who made names for themselves on defense last fall gave reason to think they could excel on offense as well next season.

Freshman Steve Martin and sophomores James McElfresh and Chase Evans got most of Central's offense on the game-winning drive, combining for 55 of the Bears' 70 yards.

McElfresh gained 17 yards on a pass from David Egan, and Evans busted loose for 17 more on a third-and-4 run up the middle. Martin finished the drive with a 1-yard run to give the Bears the lead with 4:07 left.

"There's a lot more to come," said Evans, who started at cornerback for Central last fall and said he dedicated Friday's effort to Crognale. "I like running the ball, but I'll play any position they want me to play."

Central ended Lecanto's final rally when two defenders hit receiver Brian Perez. The loose ball popped out to linebacker Charles Harding, sealing the Bears' win.

"We want to be physical. We want to be hard-hitting," Griffith said. "Hits like that are contagious. They're very infectious. It's the type of hit that can turn the whole context of the game around. Our kids got pretty excited after that happened."

In the second scrimmage, Hernando bolted to a 10-0 lead on Crystal River, only to see the Pirates rally for two second-quarter touchdowns for a 14-10 victory.

Hernando scored on a 22-yard Chase Copeland field goal and a 4-yard run by Derrick Mobley. The Leopards went with their second-team offense for most of the second quarter.

"You never like to lose, but we played a lot of kids, first and second teams on offense and defense," coach Bill Browning said. "We've come a long way since the first week of practice. We've still got a long way to go."

The Leopards will continue to practice this week, finishing the spring with an intrasquad scrimmage at 7 p.m. Friday. Freshman Brad Wyatt took all the snaps at quarterback, and Browning said he expects him to be the starter in the fall.

"I've gone with sophomore quarterbacks in the past, and I don't have a problem with that," Browning said. "(Springstead's) A.J. Stone and Brandon Browning started from sophomores to seniors, and Brad's going to be in the same category. He's a talented kid."