Weeki Wachee hosts Gulf,
as Sykora eyes rare 2,000-
yard passing plateau
By TONY CASTRO
In a relatively quiet Week 12 menu, Central (0-10) and Springstead (7-3) have concluded its regular season schedules.
The Eagles are holding out its faint bowl game hopes for a last-second opponent to agree to play next week – otherwise its 43rd season is a lock.
Hernando (7-3), which is davoring a bye week, is awaiting official notification from the FHSAA on who they’ll play on Nov. 9 regional playoffs.
This much is known, HHS will begin the journey on the road – mostly likely at Glen St. Mary-Baker County. That’s a likely 3½-hour trip by school bus.
Meanwhile, Class 5A, District 7 champion Nature Coast Technical (8-1) is seeking its ninth straight win by hosting IMG White (3-6) at 7 p.m. Friday at Shark Tank Stadium.
It’s officially being labeled Senior Night for its nine Class of 2019 players, featuring seven starters.
Along US-19, Weeki Wachee (3-6) is hoping to tie the school record for most wins – set by Mark Lee’s 2015 squad – by hosting New Port Richey-Gulf (1-8) at 7 p.m. at the Hornets‘ Nest.
Ascenders vs. Sharks
The Sharks are riding an 8-game win skein since falling in Week 1 to Ridgeview, 30-27.
In Monday night’s makeup game at Lecanto, NCT smothered the Panthers, 36-0.
Senior Michael “Mike-Mike” Weston – running behind a mammoth offensive line – added 15 carries for a game-high 175 yards and tallied his county-best 24th and 25th touchdowns of the season.
Weston’s TD runs covered 16 and 40 yards. He tallied his third two-point conversion in three tries.
Junior quarterback Fabian Burnett added 65 rushing yards and scored twice (7, 30 yds.). Through the air, he clicked on 4-of-6 aerials for a modest 73 yards while securing his eighth touchdown pass of the season without an interception.
Defensively, junior linebacker Anthony Houston produced a team-best 12 tackles, including one tackle for a loss.
NCT won the turnover battle 3-0 as Dedric Hall, Shemar Lawson and Kenyatah Morgan each intercepted a pass.
The picks were Lawson and Morgan‘s county-leading fourth of the season.
On special teams, sophomore placekicker Alexandra Florkowski finished a season-best perfect 4-of-4 on point-afters.
All this after NCT captured the “Battle of Brooksville” last Friday, solving Hernando for a school record fifth straight time, 35-14.
Against the visiting Purple and Gold, Weston toted the rock 24 times for 154 yards and scored twice and added a two-point.
On a 350-yard rushing effort, Morgan aided the cause with five carries for season-high 113 yards and two scores.
Burnett connected on 6-of-7 aerials for 96 yards and one touchdown.
Hall led the hosts with four receptions for 43 yards and one TD grab.
While Florkowski misfired on her lone point-after attempt, Mateo Rivera finished 1-of-2.
Against HHS, Houston added 12 tackles, featuring two tackles for a loss, while Morgan chipped in 10 tackles, including five assists.
Facing its third game in a week, the NCT did not pad up on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in preparation for the Manatee County crew.
According to second-year mentor Cory Johns, the Sharks are in a good place.
“Winning the district championship and standing 8-1 feels pretty good,” explained Johns. “Especially after the mistakes we made in Week 1 at Ridgeview.”
Entering Week 12’s tilt, “Our biggest improvement have been with our offensive line,” shared Johns. “We created a decent amount of turnover, haven’t turned the ball over much and played well on special teams except for extra points.”
Injury-wise, Issac Edwards suffered a knee injury against Hernando, and did not play against Lecanto. He is not expected to play against IMG.
Another of the walking wounded, senior linebacker Corey Peterson (sore ankle), who played sparingly against Hernando, has recouped enough to be closer to 100 percent.
Johns singled out Morgan for filling for Edwards.
“He broke one for 80 yards on a counter and added another score. He played pretty well,” summed up NCT mentor.
In sizing up IMG White, “They’re a tricky team. They’ve played some good folks and scored. It’s kinda hard to tell what they are (identity-wise),” said Johns. “The kids know what the stakes are. If you’re a competitor, we’re gunning for the top seed in the region. If I was to guess, we’ll most likely play either Eastside or Crystal River (in the first round).”
On Friday’s game plan, “We’re gonna do whatever we can do to finish 9-1. If we get rained out, I can tell you we’re not making this game up. What we don’t want to do is lose this game and fall to the No. 4 seed.”
Bucs vs. Hornets
Since posting an 8-3 record in 2014, the Bucs have hit the skids going a combined 2-37.
Last fall, WWHS forced the Bucs to walk the plank at Des Little Stadium, 50-7.
If the expected showers diminish, it could be worse this time.
The pass-happy Hornets are coming off a 32-22 loss to playoff-bound Crystal River.
WWHS lost the turnover battle as junior quarterback Vaughn Sykora was responsible for four miscues.
Besides losing a fumble, he suffered his county-leading 10th, 11th and 12th interceptions of the season.
Unfortunately for the hosts, two of Sykora’s errant throws were returned for pick sixes.
On the positives, Sykora 13-of-28 passes for 292 yards highlighted by his 18th, 19th and 20th touchdown passes.
Of the county’s top five receivers, four belong to WWHS.
Senior Sebastian Class, who rushed for 88 yards, snatched six passes for game-high 109 yards. His long was 50 yards for his seventh TD grab of the season.
Senior Amar Walker caught three passes and added 102 yards highlighted by a 75-yard TD reception.
Sophomore David Richards caught a pair of passes for 59 yards, including 38-yarder for a score.
On special teams, senior Brian Strickland added two more two-pointers – he’s 15-of-19 on the season – to extend his Hernando County records.
Defensively, Walker’s team-high 14 tackles pushed him over 100 tackles in 2018. With it, he became the first Hornet to ever record 100 tackles in a single season.
Strickland added an interception and Trenton Pisarski was credited with a sack.
Second-year WWHS mentor Jacob Gray was frustrated that the Hornets couldn’t finish a game it led into the fourth quarter.
“The two pick sixes called us,” he summed up. “The first was a 75-yarder, the second was from a yard out of our end zone. What hurts the most was we were up at one point, 16-0, but couldn’t finish them off.
“… Had we scored once more up 16-0, I think that would’ve done it,” shared Gray. “I told the kids, not making fourth down was on me. At the end of the day, we couldn’t make up for all their athletes.”
In confronting Gulf, “They’re a little better this year,” addressed the WWHS skipper. “They have an athletic back and they’ll line up and run trips or four-receiver sets or show an empty back field. It’s like we’re looking at ourselves in the mirror during practice.”
On WWHS’ goals on Senior Night, “We’d like our seniors to be involved,” warned Gray. “Sykora needs just over 200 yards to reach 2,000 passing yards for a single season. With a senior year to go, that’s a nice goal going into next year.
“We’re on pace to be the most efficient defense in school history and that too is attainable,” explained Gray.
Leopards licking their wounds
After losing to NCT, HHS is licking its wounds. Six players are banged up following last week’s game, featuring five starters: David Hale Bronson, Harrison Carter, G‘Koby Winn, Jaquan Spry and Qwenton Coney.
Jonanthan Lape missed last week’s game due to an injury the week before at Central.
On the plus side, senior fullback Israel “Izzy” Fields overcame a lost fumble at the NCT 1-yard line, by rushing 20 times for a team-high 92 yards.
He scored twice, once on a run, another on a pass.
Senior quarterback Boston Tafelski clicked on 8-of-16 passes for 73 yards, including his 10th TD pass of the season to Fields.
Defensively, senior linebacker Bronson will not forget his 20-tackle performance, featuring 10 solos.
Austin McCombs aided with 14 tackles, including 10 solos. He added one tackle for a loss.
In summing up the game, “Most of our mistakes were self-inflected,” detailed Head Coach Robert Kazmier. “It was a lot of little things. We’d have one guy out of place and they‘d score.”
In assessing the damage, “Our O-line rose to the occasion,” explained Kazmier, a former offensive lineman. “The game was super physical. Thank goodness we’ve got a bye week; we‘re banged up.
“A lot of our younger guys are still adjusting to the speed of the game. That’ll only help us down the road.”
On HHS‘ plans this week, “We’re waiting on Sunday‘s (FHSAA) announcement on who is playing who. We’re thinking we’re either playing Baker County, North Marion or Nature Coast on the road.”
Bears: Season 30 over
Central suffered its 15th straight loss, falling at the hands of Sunlake, 30-6.
Trailing 15-0 in the second quarter, senior R.J. Harrington returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
That snapped an 18-quarter scoring drought.
CHS suffered three turnovers, losing three fumbles (two by sophomore Contae Cason and another by quarterback Logan Hickey).
On a night when CHS rushed for a season-high 221 yards, Cason ripped off 22 carries for a season-high 172 yards.
Defensively, freshman Kolby Oudeans secured a season best 10 tackles and recovered one of two Seahawk fumbles.
Senior Hayden Dodgen aided the cause with nine tackles and Gage Colyer recovered a fumble.
“Over the last three weeks, we’ve looked a lot better offensively, stressed first-year mentor John Warren. “Kids like Contae will only get better with game awareness. He’s got to continue to keep working on his craft (in the off season).
“As far as positives, this was the best game we’ve had rushing the football. Contae is a slippery running back, who can bust some runs.
“…We juggled that O-line a lot. We’ve still got a long way to go. At least now, we return guys who have a year of varsity experience under their belts,” noted Warren. “On defense, our freshman, Oudeans, did a whale of a job.”
On what the focus will be in the off-season, “Finishing 0-10, we’ve bottomed out. You have to start somewhere. At we have some experience coming back,” said Warren. “We have to get stronger in the weight room. That’s where we develop some these kids. 0-10 should be a wakeup call. It’s time for some of these kids to recreate themselves.”