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Don't count out tradition-rich Pirates just yet

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002

A funny thing happened last week.

After word spread Friday at Citrus that Crystal River had upset state-ranked Dixie County on the road, nobody seemed too surprised. Hurricanes coach Larry Bishop gave one of those I-figured-that-might-happen looks. A couple of Citrus players nodded in a way that led one to believe they knew what outcome would occur.

In a typical year, you'd expect this. But before beating Dixie, the Pirates were 1-2 after a disappointing loss to Dunnellon (their first to the Tigers since Ronald Reagan was president and Wham topped the music charts with Wake me up before you go-go). They had, for the most part, looked un-Pirate like. From 1996-2001, Crystal River won 60 games. But after graduating two dozen seniors from last fall's 10-2 team, the Pirates appeared to be staring 5-5 in the eye. Skeptics wrote them off. Clearly, those in the know (opposing coaches and players) did not.

"If Crystal River didn't fumble all those times against Dunnellon, (the Pirates) probably win," Dixie coach Brent Wilkerson said Thursday. He had similar comments days before playing Crystal River, but now his words carry more weight.

Dixie, like Crystal River, had heavy graduation losses, especially up front -- where the Pirates won. Crystal River's interior units, filled with many first-year starters, controlled the line of scrimmage. The Pirates rushed for 250 yards and held the Bears to 29.

"I think they're a pretty formidable team," Wilkerson said, "Up front, they manhandled us. I don't know if that's because we're weak or not. But they were a good, solid team. And they're very well-coached."

Wilkerson praised Crystal River running back Chianta Smith, who rushed for 114 yards and two scores, and was impressed with first-year quarterback Chris Bunch, whom the coach thinks is more athletic than Bunch's predecessor, Clayton Trenary. "We handled (Trenary) well last year," Wilkerson said. "Bunch's foot speed was better than Trenary. He can run."

AN EYE ON MARION: While Crystal River and Lecanto battle to stay alive in the race for the Class 3A, District 3 title, tonight's North Marion (2-2, 0-0 in 3A-3) at Dunnellon (4-0, 1-0) game is a fight for first. Don't be fooled by North Marion's record. The Colts have played Belleview, Ocala Vanguard and Tallahassee Godby, 4A teams that are playoff regulars. North Marion lost to Belleview 21-20. Dunnellon has outscored opponents 153-63, and in its past two games beat Crystal River 29-15 and Umatilla 41-22. Umatilla isn't a big-name program, but the Bulldogs are 3-1 and upset South Sumter 12-10 two weeks ago. North Marion won last year 36-12.

BROTHERLY LOVE ... AND PRAISE: When things go bad with the Citrus offense, Bishop hears about it. That's because his brother, Jonny, is the coordinator. As the Hurricanes averaged 12.3 points last fall, the brothers often heard suggestions from the peanut gallery. But this season, Citrus has scored 104 points in four games. And after the 'Canes beat Wildwood 31-9 last week (Citrus never punted), Larry Bishop was quick to give credit to Johnny. "He called a great game tonight," Bishop said. "He had a great game plan." Citrus scored 35 points in a Week 2 win over Hernando, its highest output since the fourth game of the 2000 season.

ODDS AND ENDS: Oops. The Florida High School Activities Association has the score of last week's Crystal River-Dixie game incorrect on its website. Crystal River is listed as having won 210-6.

-- Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337.

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