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DUNNELLON - For most of the first two quarters Friday night, it appeared Crystal River might win.
A scoreless first quarter seemed promising. So did the start of the second, when the Pirates led 8-0 and Dunnellon struggled to avoid drive-killing penalties.
Then the Tigers scored 27 points in the third quarter. About an hour later, Crystal River lost 47-27 at Ned Love Field.
"I think we played well," coach Anthony Paradiso said. "We proved to people we could play."
A week after the Pirates lost 56-6 to Belleview, they showed improvement. Ronnie Baldner returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. Torrion Smith caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Shay Newcomer.
On defense, Crystal River held leading rusher Juwan Franklin to 66 yards on 23 carries.
Still, after the players raised their helmets to the marching band and retreated to the bus, they were not smiling.
"All of those things are good, but it doesn't matter if we don't get the win," said Newcomer, who went 12-of-30 for 136 yards.
Two interceptions and three lost fumbles kept the Pirates from seriously challenging the Tigers. Dunnellon struggled too, but Crystal River could not capitalize on the Tigers' 18 penalties.
Paradiso, remaining optimistic, pointed out the district schedule has not begun. And he said his team has been improving.
"The longer I'm here, the better we get," he said.