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Leopards looking to follow Sanders' lead

This appears to be almost routine, Chad Sanders rushing for triple digits.

Now, Hernando hopes to make winning routine too.

The first victory of the Matt Smith era was put in the books Friday as Hernando beat Ridgewood 30-20. It was a pleasant turnaround from the previous two weeks, when the Leopards were bested 44-12 by Springstead and 33-13 by Clearwater Central Catholic.

"I thought they deserved it," said Smith, the first-year coach. "We're getting better each week. I expect them to stay that way until the end of the season."

There's little debating that the rushing attack is in midseason form. Sanders ran for over 100 yards and one touchdown against Ridgewood, his third consecutive big game. In the opener against the Eagles, the senior had 184 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and against CCC he collected 219 yards and two more TDs.

"He's been running crazy," junior Fabian Jackson said. "He's a hard runner, a speed runner."

Jackson also had a 100-yard game against Ridgewood, giving the Leopards a two-pronged attack not seen since Rod Roberts and Jagren Castillo were healthy and roaming the backfield.

Only an injury is likely to slow Sanders from becoming a 1,000-yard rusher. Hernando has a huge offensive line (four over 250 pounds, led by 283-pound Dexter Cummings) and a running mentality, though Smith expresses an interest in opening up the passing game with James Thomas.

"It depends on what the situations are, but if we're moving the ball on the ground ," Smith said, not finishing the thought with "we'll run it all day long" although that seemed to be his drift.

Hernando gets another tuneup game of sorts this week at Pasco in its fourth consecutive non-district game. The Pirates are Hernando's longtime rival and a team none of the current Leopards have beaten (Hernando's last win was 1999).

A win, of course, would be ideal, but Smith knows the season does not begin in earnest until Oct. 1 at Citrus, Hernando's first Class 3A, District 8 game. Only the top two in the district advance to the postseason and there are no at-large berths, making Hernando's September schedule something of a glorified preseason.

"That's what I explained to them before the season started," Smith said. "The first five games (including preseason) are to get prepared for district competition."

The ground game appears to be ready.