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Without fumbles, Rams can be good

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

It was impressive to watch what Ridgewood could do with the ball Friday night.

And hard to watch when the Rams couldn't hold onto it.

In their 28-14 preseason Kickoff Classic victory over Citrus, the Rams fumbled the ball away on the opening kickoff; fumbled away the quarterback-center snap; snapped the ball over the holder's head, fumbling away a 22-yard field goal attempt; fumbled away the ball on a short run; fumbled the ball on a two-point conversion and fumbled it after a completed pass.

But when the Rams did hold onto the ball, look what they did:

Sean Jester caught a slant pattern from Pete Bennet then bobbed and weaved 46 yards through the defense to score. Jester also scored on a 60-yard run. After Nate Bradley's 44-yard reception to the 4, Jester scored from there. His last touchdown was an 18-yard sweep left. "We were turning the football over. We were missing blocks. We were in the wrong formations, the wrong motions. We were making those types of mistakes," new coach Troy Cornwell said.

"But we've got big-play capability. We've got talent on this football team. We just have to get the ball into the right hands."

WE ARE FAMILY: Tyrone Tomlin watched Thursday's jamboree from the sidelines in a jersey and shorts. But he was encouraged by what he saw from his Wesley Chapel teammates, especially sophomore Nigel Bryant.

Bryant, Tomlin's cousin, made an impressive varsity debut, rushing five times for 65 yards and an 8-yard touchdown, prompting Tomlin to high-five a teammate and say, "Must just run in the family."

Coach John Castelamare had said he would use Bryant primarily at receiver to get him on the field and not stuck behind Tomlin and senior Greg Harrison in the backfield.

But Bryant shined as a third-down back, and Castelamare said he was impressed.

"He looked good," Castelamare said. "He's run real well the last two weeks, so we wanted to get him out there. He's a fullback and a receiver. We need to get him in the game."

GATORS RUN, TOO: While third-year Land O'Lakes starter Drew Weatherford, last season's leading passer in the county, picked up where he left off by completing 7 of 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, Chris Perez emerged as a go-to running back in Thursday's game against Hernando.

Perez, a junior who rushed for 363 yards in a limited role last season, gained 50 yards on five carries. That included a 22-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and a 2-yard touchdown. "He doesn't give you a whole lot to take a look at," coach John Benedetto said.

"All you see is shoulder pads and knees."

SUBS SHINE: Hudson's starting backfield struggled Friday against Lecanto with Josh Bunting completing 4 of 7 passes for 19 yards, fullback Kenny Eva gaining just 5 yards and tailback Nathan Toole rushing for 7 yards.

Backup running backs Travis Miller and Brian Kirby combined for 108 rushing yards.

And Miller ran for a touchdown and caught a 41-yard pass from backup quarterback Shannon Eva, Kenny's brother, for another.

"Our second team looked good. Our first team did not," coach Terry Voyles said. "Our money's on the first team. You make a living on the first team."

Asked if Shannon Eva would start Friday's opener against Ridgewood, Voyles said, "I guess I'm going to have to go the Spurrier way. I never thought I'd say that, but we're going to have to get some excitement on offense."

DEFENSE FIRST: After giving up at least 26 points in all 10 games last season, Mitchell's first priority entering the season was upgrading its defense.

While it was only one quarter against River Ridge on Thursday, the Mustangs appear to have made considerable progress, especially against the run.

"The one thing I was happy about was defensively, we did a good job against the run," coach Scott Schmitz said.

"Defensively, we're a lot better than we were at this time last year, and to be honest, that's what we were looking at coming into this."

Two of the biggest plays came from senior defensive end Scott Frazier, who pulled down quarterback Ryan Mistal for a 10-yard loss then added a 6-yard loss on the quarter's final play.

INJURY WOES: Zephyrhills, already thin with a varsity roster of 27 players, will be without offensive lineman Scott Calhoun, a key reserve, for 3-4 weeks after the junior separated his left shoulder during practice last week.

-- GREG AUMAN, STEVE LEE, JAMAL THALJI

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