ZEPHYRHILLS — The host Bulldogs forced four turnovers and scored on three of those plays in Friday night’s dominant 43-2 win over Hernando. A running clock was implemented at the end of the third quarter.
“That is a great step in the right direction,” Zephyrhills coach Nick Carroll said.
The Bulldogs (2-0) went ahead 14-0 on Marcell Tucker’s 30-yard interception of Hernando quarterback Blake Smith. On the next possession Maguire Neal, who earlier recovered a fumble, tackled Smith in the end zone following a high snap for a 16-0 lead.
Then in the second quarter, Zephyrhills’ Tymar Mckever blocked a punt and ran it into the end zone from 10 yards out for a 22-2 lead.
“It popped right in front of me,” he said. “I got a gift.”
Theotis Smith also had a fumble recovery for the Bulldogs, who limited the Leopards (0-1) to a safety when quarterback Jaxson Rivera was tackled in the end zone in the first quarter.
Zephyrhills also got a boost from the return of Jaylin Thomas, who missed the season opener due to COVID-19. The senior running back and returner netted 254 all-purpose yards and scored three times.
Thomas scored on a 68-yard punt return, a 56-yard touchdown run that gave the Bulldogs a 29-2 lead and a 37-yard scoring run down the right sideline in the third quarter that closed out scoring.
“It must’ve been those two weeks off (including the preseason),” said Thomas, who had a single-game career-high 160 rushing yards.
Added Carroll: “(Thomas) didn’t get to play last week, so he’s been hungry to tote the rock.”
Rivera completed 5 of 14 passes for 149 yards, which included a 75-yard pass play along the left sideline to T.J. Jackson, the former quarterback Rivera replaced early last season.