FOOTBALL: Zephyrhills routs Hernando

BULLDOGS 43 LEOPARDS 2

ZEPHYRHILLS — If last week’s 16-12 win over Lakeland Kathleen wasn’t any indication that this Zephyrhills Bulldogs team is for real, they made sure to put everyone on notice Friday night against the visiting Hernando Leopards.

There didn't seem to be much the Leopards could do right and little the Bulldogs could do wrong when they met at Bulldog Stadium. Zephyrhills jumped out to a quick 16-0 lead and never looked back, as the Bulldogs routed the Leopards 43-2 and improved to 2-0 on the season.

“My thing is, on offense and defense, we want to be well balanced so we’re able to make plays across the board,” Zephyrhills head coach Nick Carroll said. “So we don’t have to rely on one guy and that’s the thing we have to work on. It takes the guys a little bit of time to get together and gel. I’m proud of them.”

It’s no surprise that Zephyrhills is one of the top teams in Pasco County, but the Bulldogs put an exclamation point on things versus Hernando. The Bulldogs got the party started when running back Jaylin Thomas (6 carries, 135 yards) took Hernando’s first punt of the game back 68 yards for a touchdown.

And that was just the appetizer.

Bad snaps and miscues galore hurt Hernando (0-1), as the Leopards could never quite gather their footing after the initial blows given by Zephyrhills. The Leopards got some solid running from Jordan Williams (14 carries, 40 yards), but quarterback Blake Smith had a rough night. Smith was picked off in the opening half and Marcell Tucker returned it for a touchdown.

By halftime, it was clear Zephyrhills was going to run away with the game, up 36-2. Thomas at intermission had 178 yards and two touchdowns on just five touches. Tensions started to boil on the Hernando side, as it was the worst defeat the Leopards have suffered since the 2019 opener against Lake Gibson. Hernando ended up losing that one 41-0 at home.

“That was one of the worst starts to a game I’ve ever been apart of,” Hernando head coach Earl Garcia III said. “But that’s how the ball bounces sometimes. We’re not going to blame it on COVID. We’re not going to blame it on nothing. That’s on us and we’re going to fix it.”

Andy Villamarzo can be reached at andyvillamarzo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.