TAMPA — Looking at the records of Friday night’s Class 5A, Region 3 quarterfinal foes, it appeared No. 5 seed Nature Coast might have a distinct advantage. After all, the Sharks came in at 7-3, while No. 4 seed Chamberlain was just 3-7.
Sharks fifth-year coach Cory Johns preached to anyone who would listen that the Chiefs would provide a big challenge, and he was spot on. Nature Coast used a huge game from running back Christian Cromer to overcome an early deficit, then hang on for a 24-21 victory.
Chamberlain (3-8) struck first, as senior Desman Hearns returned the opening kickoff 70 yards for an 8-0 lead seconds into the game.
After a 34-yard Caiden Mellecker field goal later in the quarter, the Chiefs got their second kickoff return for a touchdown as Delvon Bingham took it 87 yards to the house for a 14-3 lead.
In the second quarter, Cromer bulled his way in from 13 yards out to cut the lead to 14-9. It was a precursor of things to come.
A key sequence occurred just before the half as Chamberlain recovered a fumble at the Nature Coast 19-yard line. But Hearns was forced out at the 1-yard line as time ran out.
In the second half, the Sharks went with a variation of the wildcat or single wing, with Cromer taking direct snaps on almost every play as the Chamberlain defense started to wear down.
“We call it ‘Dozer.’ Everybody knows about it. We run it all the time,” said Johns. “We got in it and realized they really didn’t have an answer for it. There was no reason to do anything else.”
The bruising 235-pound sophomore scored touchdowns of 5 and 57 yards in the second half, finishing with a whopping 275 yards on 31 carries.
“Christian is a great kid. He works his tail off. He was actually a starting defensive tackle as a freshman. He’s very fleet a foot for as big as he is,” said Johns.
The Chiefs rallied in the fourth quarter using their own version of the wildcat as Kyle Malone scored on a keeper to cut the lead to 24-21, but that was as close as it would get.
The Sharks (8-3) will travel to Clearwater(10-1) next week.