BROOKSVILLE - After weeks of struggles, Crystal River finally got a chance to celebrate Friday night against Nature Coast Tech.
The Pirates rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit and recovered five fumbles by the Sharks en route to a 17-13 Class 3A, District-6 victory.
"The defense stepped it up," Crystal River coach Craig Frederick said. "Our defensive line played great, our defensive backs played better, and we were able to battle back."
Torion Smith caught a 20-yard scoring strike from Shay Newcomer with 7:18 left to put the Pirates (1-3, 1-0 district) ahead for good.
"This was a very important win for us," Frederick said. "We needed to gain some confidence, and this will surely do that for us."
Nature Coast (0-4, 0-1) mustered only 101 yards of offense and five first downs. The Sharks scored on a 39-yard blocked field goal return by Stephen Paleaz and 5-yard run by Robert Fleming but were unable to overcome mistakes.
"Our offense killed us," Nature Coast coach Jamie Joyner said. "The defense and special teams played great, but our fumbles made the difference."
After Fleming's touchdown put the Sharks ahead 13-3, Crystal River battled back with a 6-yard scoring run by Joe Bertine on the final play of the third quarter.
Nature Coast, which turned over the ball three consecutive series in the second half, gave it back to the Pirates on a fumble at the Sharks 32-yard line after Bertine's score.
Five plays later on third-and-17, Newcomer hit Smith in the corner of the end zone to give Crystal River its first lead of the game and season.
After another turnover, Nature Coast had one final chance but went three-and-out and punted to the Pirates with 1:58 remaining. Then they ran out the clock. "It all boils down to execution," Joyner said. "Our offensive line played great, but our backfield wasn't able to execute the plays that were being called."
Hernando Christian comes ups short
BROOKSVILLE - Luis Gonzalez and Gaskov Emilcar scored touchdowns as Haines City Landmark Christian downed Hernando Christian 14-9 Friday afternoon.
Gonzalez scored first for Landmark (2-2) on a 45-yard touchdown return of an interception. Emilcar produced the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Hernando Christian's Tyler Peterson kicked a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter after two 5-yard penalties inside the Patriots 20 forced the Lions to settle for three points. Lions quarterback Stephen Johnson hit Nate Dahmer with a 6-yard scoring pass with 6:25 left.
HCA (1-2) had 75 yards in penalties, including several that killed scoring opportunities.
HCA linebacker Corey Drummond had 18 tackles and just missed a chance at preventing the winning touchdown.
"You can't let them get inside your head," said Drummond, who thought he recovered a fumble the referees missed. Emilcar scored shortly after.
"They didn't beat us, we beat ourselves," Hernando Christian coach Steve Johnson said. "We just had a couple of miscues. They had a couple of lucky plays."