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RIVALRY MATCHUP OFFERED NAIL-BITING DRAMA

This week, the Times' preps staff reflects on the best high school sporting event each writer covered in the 2009-10 school year.

Football, Nov. 6: Nature Coast 22, Hernando 20

There's no question the best game I covered last school year was the regular-season contest between Nature Coast and Hernando.

The story lines ran deep.

Nature Coast had been considered the dominant football program in recent years, spoiling Hernando's traditional grip on county supremacy.

There is a deeper animosity toward Nature Coast, and the anger comes from virtually any school within a reasonable car ride of the Brooksville campus.

Anyone from Cortez Boulevard to Mariner Avenue will tell you that other schools are at a disadvantage against Nature Coast. The magnet school is open to all county students, and many have charged Nature Coast coaches with using that magnet status as a recruiting tool.

Yet, with the Sharks prepared to graduate more than 20 seniors from its 2009 roster, there was growing Facebook chatter that the Leopards were primed to regain their perch.

Many believe 2010 will be the year, but the '09 Leopards, particularly star running back Alvin Delaine, wanted to peak sooner.

Hernando was at home under a purple haze of crazed Leopards fans. Nature Coast was coping with some internal turmoil. Then-first-year coach Mark Lee was not meshing with the program, and a homecoming loss to Dunnellon, the first in Nature Coast history, threatened their playoff hopes.

A Hernando win would knock Nature Coast out of contention.

A Hernando win would put the Leopards in the playoffs.

A Hernando win would set the Earth on its proper axis, at least that's the way most of Brooksville viewed it.

So what happens?

Nature Coast struck first on a 25-yard touchdown run by Tevin Drake. Adding to the dramatics, the Sharks converted a two-point conversion.

Hernando responded with a 25-yard touchdown run by Delaine and two-point conversion. In fact, for the first time I can recall since covering high school football, every touchdown was followed by a two-point conversion attempt.

The Sharks took a 16-8 lead in the second quarter after C.J. Baker threw a 20-yard touchdown to Anthony Carlucci.

Hernando answered in the third quarter with a 10-yard Delaine reception followed by a failed two-point conversion to trail 16-14.

In the fourth, Carlucci scored on a 6-yard touchdown run followed by a failed conversion.

Hernando had a chance to tie late in the fourth after quarterback Kall Daniel hit Delaine for a pass that went 37 yards for a touchdown.

With all of Brooksville going bananas and adrenaline gushing through Delaine, I still wonder why he was not given the ball for the two-point conversion. The kid made arguably the biggest play of the night just seconds before.

Instead, Hernando attempted to tie on a pass, which failed. Nature Coast recovered an onside kick to preserve the victory.

Delaine was crushed, tearing up at midfield. It was hard not to feel sympathy for a kid who had just left everything he had at Tom Fisher Stadium, accounting for 188 yards of total offense and all three touchdowns.

He hugged Drake, his good friend and former middle school teammate. Drake was elated knowing the Sharks had salvaged the season.

Then in an odd twist, it was learned three teams finished in a second-place tie in the district, meaning Hernando, Nature Coast and Crystal River would battle in a tiebreaker for the final playoff berth in Class 3A-6.

In the end, the Sharks won on their home field, shutting down the Leopards and Delaine once more.

But it's clear this will be the game of the year on the North Suncoast in 2010.

* * *

Fast facts

Other contest-of-the-year candidates

More games that almost made Izzy Gould's final cut.

1. Softball: Mitchell 1, Gulf 0: In a game that lasted 12 innings, ace Cortney Radke threw a season-high 21 strikeouts to pick up the victory on Buccaneers' turf.

2. Boys soccer: Mitchell 1, Pembroke Pines Charter 0 (3-1 PKs): The Mustangs advanced - and won - the Class 4A state championship thanks to this semifinal victory led by goalkeeper Josh Berres, who stopped a pair of penalty kicks.

3. Baseball: Wesley Chapel 5, Pasco 0: The Wildcats earned their first win in Dade City thanks to the clutch pitching of Cole Miraglia, who struck out 10 in a complete-game shutout.

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