FOOTBALL: Hernando pulls off upset win over rival Nature Coast
BROOKSVILLE — There’s nothing like a good 'ole, small-town rivalry.
 
That’s what the folks at Tom Fisher Stadium got when the Nature Coast Tech Sharks traveled a little north to take on the Hernando Leopards. When the two teams meet, there’s always a great, small-town feel to it that many games can’t matchup with.
 
The Sharks entered Friday leading the all-time series 10-6 and the Leopards were looking to tighten things up a bit.
 
Hernando was able to get the proverbial monkey off its back by accomplishing what some may see as an upset, winning 27-21. It would be an 8-yard, go-ahead touchdown run by quarterback Blake Smith with 35.7 seconds left that pushed the Leopards to the win.
 
The Leopards improved to 3-1 and Sharks fell to 4-1 on the season.
 
“Well, my blood pressure is probably 1 million over 2 million,” Hernando head coach Earl Garcia III said after the game. “The defense had been playing well all night and I knew we’d get the ball back one more time.”
 
Hernando (3-1) wasted absolutely no time getting out in front of its rival, as the Leopards got a 66-yard touchdown run by Brian Lewis and took a 6-0 lead with 11:05 left in the opening quarter. Nature Coast didn’t attack the Hernando front seven much in the first half with running back Christian Cromer, who entered the game with 629 yards rushing.
 
The Sharks got on the board early in the second quarter when Cromer looked like he would be running to the right but then handed off a reverse to Carlos Mendez, who walked into the end zone untouched. Since Hernando failed to convert its point after earlier, Mendez's score gave Nature Coast the 7-6 lead.
 
It wouldn’t be the Sharks lead for long, though. The Leopards fought back and quarterback Blake Lewis sneaked in 3-yard touchdown to go up 13-7 just before halftime.
 
It looked like Cromer and the Sharks would get themselves going offensively in the second half, as the 240-pound tailback scored multiple times in the final two quarters. Ahead 21-13, it looked as if Nature Coast would remain undefeated. Penalties started to become a factor down the stretch, however.
 
A crucial face mask penalty on the final drive of the game, with Nature Coast up just 21-19, proved to be the Sharks' undoing. With excellent field position at the Sharks 8-yard line and first and goal, Hernando quarterback Blake Smith scored his third rushing touchdown of the night with 35.7 seconds to go to seal the upset.
 
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at andyvillamarzo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.