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Friday night rewind

By BRANT JAMES, FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

QUOTABLE

"We practiced so hard for this one game and it all came true. I can't believe this. I can't believe we're going to the playoffs." -- JAGREN CASTILLO, Hernando running back, on a 33-21 victory over Crystal River that helped earn the team a playoff berth.

"Justin (Melnik) ran the ball real well (Friday), but Ian Wald had a heck of a night running the offense. He's definitely got a future in the game if he keeps at it." -- BILL VONADA, Springstead coach, on sophomore quarterback Ian Wald's performance in the Eagles' 37-13 victory over Gulf.

GAME BALLS

BRAD WYATT, HERNANDO QB: Wyatt played arguably the finest game of his career when the Leopards needed it most. The running game was held to 160 yards, but that seemed like more than enough the way the senior spread the ball around. He went 7-for-7 for 115 yards, three scores, and ran one in.

JAGREN CASTILLO, HERNANDO RB: Shut down as a rusher (6-for-13) he caught TD passes of 5 and 30 yards.

ROD ROBERTS, HERNANDO RB: The junior led Hernando with 16 rushes for 70 yards and continued to run over and around people. Somebody make this guy a recruiting video.

WILLIE FIFER, HERNANDO LB/P: The senior had a great last seven minutes with Hernando leading 26-21. After was sacked on third down, Fifer punted to the Pirates 4. Five plays later, he recovered a fumble to set up the final Hernando touchdown.

JUSTIN MELNIK, SPRINGSTEAD: The senior running back rushed for a game-high 110 yards, including a 37-yard TD one night after winning an undue hardship hearing that restored his eligibility for his final high school game.

GUS MORALES, SPRINGSTEAD: Like Melnik, the senior defensive end also won a hardship hearing before making two sacks for a total loss of 19 yards in his final high school game. His second sack set up a safety.

IAN WALD, SPRINGSTEAD: The sophomore quarterback was 6-of-8 for 88 yards and rushed for 64 yards and touchdowns of 17, 11 and 24 yards. He directed four of the Eagles' five scoring drives.

JEFF BLANCHETTE, GULF: On a night when the Bucs struggled to move the ball, the junior quarterback accounted for most of his team's yards. He was 10-of-25 for 104 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown to Sean Collins.

WIDE OPEN

It just did not make sense at the time. Tied 7-7 with less than two minutes left in the first half, Hernando twice called timeout as Crystal River's plodding offense bogged down near its 40.

Wasn't coach Bill Browning happy to be tied at halftime? Wasn't stopping the clock inviting trouble? The run-oriented Leopards would never be able to drive the field after a William Bunch punt, not with so little time.

Browning knew what he was doing. After a Bunch punt set up Hernando at its own 34 with 1:31 left, Brad Wyatt hit Antonio Brown deep up the left sideline on second-and-6 for a 50-yard gain.

Two plays later, Wyatt rolled right and found Jagren Castillo breaking away from Chris Bunch in the right corner of the end zone. The 10-yard touchdown gave Hernando a lead it never relinquished and a rush of confidence before halftime.

"I've got to give all this to Brad, because he put the ball where it was needed," Castillo said. "They weren't covering me, but he put it where it was needed."

A LITTLE KARMA?

A season in which everything that could have gone wrong seemingly did ended with a run of good fortune for Springstead.

Running back Justin Melnik and defensive end Gus Morales played starring roles in the Eagles' victory one night after an appeals committee cleared the way for them to play in their final high school game.

Linebacker Kurt Carriveau played most of the game despite injuring a foot in practice earlier in the week.

Nearly lost in the excitement was the play of defensive back Jeff Sullivan, who played for the first time since spraining a knee in an opening-week loss to Hernando.

"I didn't get to key in on him quite as much as I would have wanted to, but I know he had a real good week of practice when he came back," coach Bill Vonada said. "I thought I saw him come up and make a couple nice hits."

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Is anyone going to be thrilled about playing Hernando in the playoffs right now? The Leopards have team speed, depth at running back and a quarterback who is playing the best of his career.

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