BROOKSVILLE - The caravan of visiting buses that rolled out of the Hernando High parking lot Friday night was escorted by a couple of squad cars from the Zephyrhills police department. And it was mildly appropriate, because you might say the Bulldogs stole one.
You also might say Hernando gave one away. But, semantics aside, one thing is clear: Zephyrhills' two interception returns for touchdowns were the difference in a 21-7 victory.
"Tough defense and just enough offense," Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher said. "That's the simplest way I can put it."
Though Zephyrhills (3-1) did not appear to have sticky fingers early on - the Bulldogs fumbled twice in the first quarter, once on the Hernando 5-yard line - it eventually forced four turnovers.
With just over 7:30 remaining in the first half, senior defensive back Bryan Thomas picked off a pass at his own 9-yard line and sprinted 91 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. The pass from Hernando quarterback Kyle Sizemore was a relatively coherent one, but it bounced off wide receiver Brock Byrd's hands and into Thomas' hands.
"I was running behind him yelling, "Get there,"' said Zephyrhills outside linebacker Cannellios Ansley.
Ansley had his own chance in the fourth quarter. With the Bulldogs leading 14-7 and Hernando facing a third-and-14 from its own 11, Sizemore was hit as he delivered a pass, forcing the ball to float off target. Ansley picked it off and rumbled 21 yards for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 21-7 with 10:00 remaining
In a game that featured just 298 yards of total offense - Hernando (2-1) out-gained Zephyrhills 156-142 - the score iced it.
"We just gave it away," Hernando coach Matt Smith said.
The Leopards, who committed four turnovers, scored their only touchdown on a 2-yard run by James Thomas with 4:04 left in the third quarter. Sizemore, playing against his old team, was 3-of-13 with three interceptions.