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Hurting Hernando falters

Top receiver Mozell Elder spent the night on the bench with a knee injury. An ankle problem limited leading rusher Rod Roberts to five carries.

Center/defensive lineman Tank Donaldson was shaken up in the second quarter, forcing Hernando to pull quarterback/defensive back Antonio Brown off the field to take snaps from backup James Johnson.

Leading tackler Jarvis Baylor caught a helmet between his knees early in the game and collapsed on the sideline after aggravating an ankle injury in the fourth.

Yet, somewhere beneath the tape and Ace bandages that held it together, Hernando nearly found the willpower to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

The Leopards led by 13 in the second quarter and clung to a three-point lead early in the fourth before falling 42-24 to perennial playoff power South Sumter Friday at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium.

South Sumter (7-2, 4-0) clinched the Class 3A, District 8 championship, while Hernando (4-5, 2-2) slipped to third and out of contention.

"We played as hard as we could," Hernando coach Bill Browning said. "They showed a lot of guts tonight, a lot of guts."

Hernando put an early scare into South Sumter by scoring on its first two plays from scrimmage.

Brown raced 73 yards around right end for a touchdown on the opening play, then completed a 91-yard scoring pass to Heath Hensley to start the Leopards' second possession.

South Sumter got one touchdown back on Richard Kelly's 5-yard reception midway through the first quarter, but Hensley's 37-yard field goal later in the quarter restored Hernando's 13-point lead.

The field goal was set up by Lee Piermatteo's forced fumble and Fabian Jackson's recovery at the South Sumter 23-yard line.

"The intensity level in the first half was unreal," Baylor said. "You could feel it."

Brown's 1-yard sneak and Jackson's two-point conversion run with 1:07 remaining in the third quarter staked Hernando to a 24-21 lead, its last of the game.

South Sumter's Nick Southall scored from 2 yards and Troy Purvis from 1 before Fabian Wilson returned a Brown interception 71 yards for a touchdown with 1:40 remaining to put the game away.

Johnson had one final message for his teammates, including 17 seniors, as they left their home field for the final time this season.

"Hold your heads up," the junior lineman said. "Hold 'em high."