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CRYSTAL RIVER — The Crystal River football squad battled admirably under tumultuous circumstances in absence of its second-year head coach Greg Fowler, who was placed on administrative leave late in the week.
But in the end, it was the same result as the last 10 years in the local rivalry as Dunnellon needed just 38 plays from scrimmage to defeat the Pirates 40-29 in District 5A-5 play at Earl Bramlett Stadium on Friday.
Under interim head coach Randy Owens, Crystal River
(4-4, 1-3) led 29-26 in the fourth quarter after senior quarterback Joe LaFleur connected with junior Ty Reynolds for a 15-yard score.
But Tigers (4-4, 3-1) senior J’Von Swoll answered with a 70-yard TD on the ensuing kickoff to change the lead for the ninth time.
The Pirates, aided by a roughing-the-punter penalty, then gobbled up over four minutes of clock and reached the Tigers’ 40-yard line before a reverse halfback pass from Reynolds on a fourth-and-9 landed in the hands of senior Chris Jackson, who returned it 55 yards to help set up Swoll’s third TD and put away Crystal River’s hopes for the night.
“Our kids played hard,” Owens said. “I can’t ask for anything else. They’ve been through a lot. We’ve talked about the three ‘Is’ since the beginning of the season — intensity, intelligence and integrity — and they played with all three tonight.”
Tigers senior quarterback Jordon Boley had 98 rushing yards and three rushing TDs, including a 40-yarder in the second quarter that gave his team a 19-14 lead going into the break after senior Shane Williams nailed the PAT.
A high snap to Boley three minutes into the third quarter led to a safety and narrowed the Tigers’ advantage to 19-16. Crystal River continued its momentum on its ensuing possession with a 39-yard scoring pass from senior Joe LaFleur to sophomore Sam Franklin, making it 23-19 in the Pirates’ favor.
The teams then traded long scoring drives to give Crystal River the 29-26 fourth-quarter lead.
Dunnellon’s defense bottled up senior Dallas Baldner most of the night, holding him to 64 rushing yards on 20 carries. Pirates fullback Destin Dawsy ran for a team-high 75 yards with 17 rushes up the middle, but Crystal River’s biggest plays came in the passing game, with sophomore Franklin scoring on 15-yard skinny post pattern in the second quarter to add to his later TD. LaFleur was 6-for-9 passing for 107 yards and three TDs, and was effective with option runs early on as he rushed for a 10-yard score to help put his team ahead 7-6 in the first quarter.
“Crystal River ran some more option tonight, which put us in a bind,” Dunnellon head coach Frank Beasley said. “When you’re playing a scheme and backs like they have, it’s difficult. Our kids battled back and our offensive line was in control of the game.
“Coach Owens did a great job on short notice,” Beasley added. “Credit to their kids and overall program to survive that and do the job they did in this ballgame.”
In addition to his three scores, Swoll led all players with 152 yards on 21 carries. Swoll joined Beasley in complimenting the performance of Dunnellon’s offensive line, which afforded the Tigers 10 yards per carry.
“First of all, I want to thank my offensive line and my fullback,” Swoll said. “Everybody was moving in the right direction and whenever a hole popped open, I just hit it and (held on to the ball).”
The loss extends the Pirates’ losing streak to four games and effectively ends the team’s already slim playoff prospects.
Dunnellon takes on North Marion, upset by Gainesville Eastside 42-41 last night, at Ned Love Field next Friday to decide the second playoff spot in the district.
Crystal River goes to Belleview next Friday for its final district contest. Kickoff for both games is at 7:30 p.m.