By KEITH NIEBUHR
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 3, 2001
LECANTO -- Lecanto has jumped barricades, knocked down walls and exercised demons this fall.
And now it has buried something, too. A question.
For 18 seasons, those associated with the program -- time and again -- have been asked, "Will this be the year the Panthers finish with their first winning record?"
The 2001 team has an answer that will please many: yes.
Against an overmatched Eustis squad, Lecanto gained 488 yards (262 from junior running back Jarvis Patterson) and 22 first downs, scored 48 first-half points and never punted. It won handily 55-19 to secure a 6-4 record and a place in history.
"Beautiful," Panthers wide receiver Mike Perrino said. "This is perfect."
Lecanto was 0-10 last season.
"I've waited four years for this," senior running back Terence Hollis said.
Twice before, the Panthers won five games in a season, in 1987 and 1999. The 1999 team went 5-6 and was the only Lecanto squad to reach the playoffs.
This group isn't headed to the postseason, but Dick Slack, who also coached the '99 team, said the 2001 Panthers will go down as the best in school history.
"Absolutely," Slack said. "Beyond a shadow of a doubt. This team came back from adversity time after time. This has been a long time coming."
Once again, the difference was Lecanto's running game.
The Panthers rushed for 454 yards on 65 carries. It marked the seventh time this season they have run for more than 300 yards in a game. They went 6-1 in those games.
Patterson's total was a career-high. He also scored five touchdowns, including four in the first half when Lecanto ran for 325 yards, amassed 15 first downs and ran 43 plays to only 21 for Eustis.
Senior Jeff Yearwood added 100 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. Hollis also scored.
The Lecanto defense, except for a few plays, was solid.
Eustis (4-6) was held to minus-12 yards rushing on 11 carries and gained 233 yards through the air. Most of Eustis' yards came after Lecanto had taken a commanding lead. The Panthers also intercepted three passes.
"I knew at the begining of the season this team had the potential to be this good," Slack said.
After the game, a group of Lecanto players snuck up behind Slack and attempted to douse the seventh-year coach with water. He escaped.
It was the only time the Panthers misfired all night.
Fittingly, on their second attempt, they were right on the mark.