Content fans. Silenced foes. District title. Bears get it all with win tonight.
By DAVID MURPHY
Published October 13, 2006
BROOKSVILLE - With an opportunity to clinch its first district title since 2001 tonight against Springstead, Central doesn't appear to need any extra motivation.
But because the Bears are facing a cross-county rival they haven't beaten in four years, extra motivation is exactly what they have.
Talk to offensive lineman Jeremy Baldwin and he'll tell you about the part-time job he has working at Wal-Mart and the ribbing he takes from co-worker and Springstead receiver Jason Haynes.
Talk to running back DuJuan Harris and he'll tell you about the chatter he heard from Eagles during the spring track season.
"We're tired of hearing them talking," said Harris, who enters the game needing 149 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
For the first time in several years, the Bears appear to be in a good position to shut the Eagles up. They have defeated two of the toughest teams in their five-team district, and a win over Springstead clinches the district title.
The absence of any official Las Vegas betting line hasn't slowed the action in the Central hallways, and though Baldwin says "there are still haters out there," the home team is the prohibitive favorite.
The Bears had the luxury of a bye last Friday and traveled to Springstead to watch the Eagles take on Hernando. Though Bill Vonada's squad pulled out a 17-16 win with a 32-yard field goal in the waning seconds, for three-and-a-half quarters they looked destined to suffer their second straight county defeat.
Don't think for a moment Bears coach Cliff Lohrey didn't notice the ease with which Hernando junior George Fribley killed the Eagles on outside runs while racking up 203 yards. Though Lohrey insists Springstead will learn from its struggles against the Leopards' running game, Central's star running back had a gleam in his eye when talking about tonight.
"We came this far," said Harris, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in four straight games. "We can't let them come into our house and beat us."
For Harris, the game is personal. Besides the fact he has never defeated Springstead at any level of football, last year's game against the Eagles marked one of the low points of his high school career. Already frustrated with then-coach Greg Bigham's Wing-T offense, he touched the ball just three times in the Bears' 21-20 loss. "I still had to be a team player," Harris said. "But it was frustrating."
This year, with the confusion and anticipation of the collegiate recruiting process (he has yet to receive an offer, but has drawn interest from schools like USF), the kid teammates call "Foxx" has been running like one. And much credit must be paid to Lohrey's desire to get him the ball.
In Central's district wins over Tarpon Springs and Ridgewood, Harris has 47 carries and 256 yards. Furthermore, he has scored five of the Bears' six touchdowns in the two games.
But as Lohrey stood at the back of the end zone before Central's walk-through Thursday, he acknowledged the past is irrelevant. Having lost to Tarpon Springs, Springstead must win to avoid playoff elimination.
"We've never tried to be anything but honest with our guys," the first-year coach said. "They understand the magnitude of this game. We don't try to downplay it one bit."
The stage, it seems, is set.