Central coach John Wilkinson first heard there was a chance quarterback and defensive back Shane Collard could return from a broken arm to play against Groveland South Lake two weeks ago.
But when Collard's doctor ruled him out for the game, Wilkinson assumed the worst.
"We expected him to be out the whole season," Wilkinson said.
A week later, the same doctor declared Collard fit to play against Leesburg.
Collard played three series at quarterback, throwing for a 9-yard touchdown to Anthony Wright, and saw time at receiver and defensive back in the Bears' 17-7 victory last Friday.
Collard's role will be expanded slightly for this week's finale against Hernando.
"Kids look to Shane for some leadership," Wilkinson said. "When he's back on the field, it helps."
By returning for the final two games, Collard is gaining valuable experience that should help him prepare for his senior season, Wilkinson said.
"There's nothing like being out there when the bodies are flying," Wilkinson said. "Getting back to quarterback for two games, he'll have three games under his belt rather than one for next year. It's huge."
PRIDE WIN: Central's victory moved it into fourth place in Class 4A, District 6.
Coupled with a non-district win three weeks ago over Naples Gulf Coast, it should help the Bears build momentum for next season.
"It was very important," Wilkinson said. "It kept us out of the cellar in the district and did two things: For our seniors who have been in the program for two years, they wanted to go out on a winning note, and it gives us a little push for a couple of people coming out next year."
The victory might have been the most complete of the season.
Darnell Craig had 15 tackles and Brian Giddens 10 to lead a defense that played well from start to finish. The offense drove 80 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession, and quarterback Jeremy Flowers passed for 65 yards in relief of Collard.
"We played well on offense, defense and special teams," Wilkinson said.
PRIDE GAME: Though Springstead's playoff hopes died last week in a 35-14 loss at Clermont East Ridge, the Eagles can complete an undefeated home season with a win over Clearwater Central Catholic on Friday.
"Yeah, there was a little disappointment over not making the playoffs, but this is the last chance for our seniors to line up and play," coach Bill Vonada said. "They seem fired up about going out and playing."
CCC, a Class 2B team that's 7-2 and playoff-bound, is not completely foreign to county squads. Hernando played the Marauders in Week 2, handing them their most lopsided defeat, 28-13.
"One Hernando coach I talked to said that was Hernando's best effort; that's why they were able to handle them somewhat," Vonada said. "(CCC) is balanced. They can run or throw pretty well."
_ FRANK PASTOR, JOHN SCHWARB