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Spring football: Nature Coast grits out a victory over George Jenkins

Ailing players, missing players ... Sharks still get the job done and impress their coach in a 15-8 triumph.

BROOKSVILLE — Leading his team to a fourth-quarter comeback was nothing compared to what Fabian “Two Fabe” Burnett came back from less than 24 hours before.

The Nature Coast quarterback was in the hospital with a 104-degree fever Thursday night.

“He doesn’t feel good. He’s still sick,” said Sharks coach Cory Johns, who wasn’t feeling too well himself entering Friday’s spring contest. Nature Coast already was without three key two-way starters.

Although limited to fewer run duties than he normally would take on, Burnett and the Sharks gutted out a 15-8 victory over visiting Lakeland George Jenkins. Burnett went 9-of-12 for 87 yards and plunged in for a 1-yard go-ahead score with 4:47 remaining.

Burnett added a two-point conversion pass to do-everything Dedric Hall, who earned his nickname “Hollywood” with a sensational performance: supplying most of the offense in the first half out of the Wildcat formation, adding five second-half receptions, several on key third downs, breaking up several passes and adding an interception in the late stages.

Hall was part of a monumental defensive effort, as the unit actually posted a shutout. George Jenkins’ only points were on an early safety and a 75-yard kickoff return by Jermiah Hudson that started the second half, putting the Eagles ahead 8-7.

But Jenkins had no first downs in the second half while only running 11 plays, Tyriq Starks throwing interceptions to Hall and Cai Teague, the latter’s closing the contest.

“Listen, I’ve never been more proud of any team I’ve ever coached here,” said Johns, noting they were without “probably our best football player” RB/FS Kinyatah Morgan along with two-way lineman Andreas Pantouvakis.

George Jenkins finished with just 76 total yards.

Middle linebacker Anthony Houston started on the offensive line — a position he’d never played before this week, forcing him to change jersey numbers from 40 to 55. His defensive surge stopped Jenkins’ two-point conversion attempt; the Eagles simply could not find room against big defensive linieman Michael Marotta and run-stuffer Quavon Lee.

Then there was end Jordan Elbert, who keyed an early stop before adding two fumble recoveries in the first half and provided a critical sack after Jenkins took over in Sharks territory in the third quarter.

Nature Coast didn’t find much luck up the middle against an imposing group of Eagles tacklers, led by rising senior Marvin Landy. The Sharks went backwards on their first drive and a bad snap on the punt made it 2-0. But Hall picked up 23 yards on two Wildcat runs, and after Elbert recovered a bad pitch Hall’s 11-yard run, and key Burnett keeper for 7 set up his 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Warren on fourth down.

Jenkins had the momentum after the kickoff return to start the second half, but three times with the ball and the lead went three and out.

Nature Coast was stuffed itself on two drives to open the half, but got three plays of at least 20 yards before narrowly missing a 37-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. NCT finally retook the lead with some help from Warren, who recovered Hall’s fumble after a swing pass. Anthony Treppen bullied for 7 yards, and a pass interference put the ball on the 7, Hall then took it to the 1 to set up Burnett’s score.

“They broke (Burnett’s) fever. He came to school ... and toughed it out, man,” beamed Johns. “He didn’t carry the ball as much as he normally will. He said, ‘Coach I can’t take too many hits’.”

Actually the Sharks did see a player return from a long-term injury, as running back Lenkel Smith saw the field for the first time in two seasons. He ran for 17 yards on 14 carries. Hall led the way with exactly 59 yards rushing and 59 receiving.