The Nature Coast Tech guys weren't about to let the mystique of Frostproof get to them last Friday. The history, the stadium full of faithful fans, the state championship banners (from 1974, 1992, 1999) none of this fazed the first-year Sharks.
Even when the Bulldogs began running their mouths a little during pregame warm-ups, poking fun at the size of their unpadded opponents, the Sharks shrugged it off for the most part. They were confident the taunts would cease when the game began.
They were right. The Sharks ran the the Bulldogs over for three straight touchdowns in the first and second quarters and found themselves in a 21-0 lead against a good team.
"They weren't ready for us," Nature Coast quarterback Billy Hughes said. "We just went out there and played smash-mouth football."
"They were shocked that we were ahead," Sharks assistant coach Pete Ruiz said, "and so were we."
By the fourth quarter, the Sharks had a 28-12 lead. They were feeling good, running down the clock. They were starting to get excited about their second win of the season, an incredible introduction to their first varsity schedule.
Then they blew it.
The Sharks mustered only eight points _ a 5-yard touchdown run by running back Rian Williams followed by a Williams two-point conversion run _ the entire second half. The offense couldn't seem to pick up yards like it did the first half, and running out the clock for as long as 12 minutes wasn't something the NCT was accustomed to.
What hurt, though, were the penalties. In the heat of the fourth-quarter battle, the Sharks drew three 15-yard personal fouls plus a late hit, contributing to a loss of more than 70 penalty yards in that quarter. The Sharks lost 150 yards on 15 penalties (seven that were 15-yarders) for the night.
Frostproof beat Nature Coast 34-29.
"It was a powerful lesson," Sharks coach Jamie Joyner said. "It definitely leaves a bitter taste in their mouths, and that can be good
and bad. They'll learn from their mistakes."
Joyner is trying to glean as much good from last week's game as possible. Being up 21-0 against a tradition-rich team like Frostproof is nothing to snort at, and he was proud of the Sharks for playing as hard as they did.
But there is a lot of work to be done before Friday's game against North Port. In the opener with Shorecrest Prep, the Sharks worked to eliminate turnovers, and it worked. Against Frostproof, Nature Coast's goal was to come out strong, and the Sharks did that.
This week's lesson in practice?
"We're working on how to focus," Joyner said. "Focus and finish."
NATURE COAST 29
WHAT WENT RIGHT
+ On the game's first drive, Nature Coast Tech scored (7-0) on a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Billy Hughes. The TD was set up by running back Rian Williams, who ran 10 plays for 68 yards, and Hughes kicked the extra point.
+ Williams took a pitch from Hughes, and ran it in for a 68-yard touchdown. The Sharks were up 13-0 by the end of the first quarter.
+ The Sharks kept pummeling the Bulldogs with their running game, marching up the field until Williams rolled into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Fullback Mike Allen ran in the two-point conversion, giving NCT a 21-point lead midway through the second quarter.
WHAT WENT WRONG
+ With a 21-point lead near the end of the first half, Frostproof finally got its first touchdown when Bulldogs freshman Carlton Thomas returned a kickoff 94 yards. Just before the half ended, Frostproof scored again on a 3-yard run, closing in on Nature Coast's lead, 21-12.
+ Neither team scored in the third quarter as the Sharks tried to eat some time off the clock. Williams scored a 5-yard touchdown to begin the fourth, but Frostproof quickly answered with three TD runs by Thomas to get the lead.
+ Nature Coast allowed more than 70 yards in penalties (three were personal fouls) in the fourth quarter, stunting any chance for a comeback. The Sharks made it to the Frostproof 20-yard line with just a few seconds on the clock, but a desperation toss to the end zone failed.
_ EMILY NIPPS, Times staff writer