Citrus defender Nick Freier, right, grabs the jersey of Braden River running back Joe Ziegler and records a tackle for a loss during play at the Weeki Wachee spring football jamboree Thursday at Weeki Wachee High School in Brooksville. The Hurricanes lost 3-0 to the Pirates in a half of play, but came back later in the evening with a 14-0 win over the host Hornets in another half of action.

WEEKI WACHEE — Coming off a difficult rebuilding season, Citrus needed something positive to build off heading into the summer.

Thursday night’s spring jamboree at Weeki Wachee seemed to provide just that. Playing a half apiece against two opponents, the Hurricanes’ defense scored more points than it allowed, following a 3-0 loss to 6A Braden River with a 14-0 triumph over the Gulf Coast 8 conference rival Hornets.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Citrus head coach McKinley Franklin said. “The first game we had a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball, missed assignments and things like that. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and keep working.

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“Really proud of the kids and their effort. I think a lot of our mistakes were because we got tired, low on (team) members. Then you start getting lazy and stuff like that, and so it happens. But for the most part they played pretty good.”

The Pirates, who were 4-4 in 2020, first downed Weeki Wachee in a half of play, 21-8, then scored on their first possession against the ’Canes. They got down to the Citrus 12-yard line thanks to a 54-yard pass from Nick Trier to Bryan Kearse

Though the ’Canes were able to push Braden River back four yards, Colin Boyd nailed a 30-yard field goal at the 7:58 mark of the first quarter. That held up, as Citrus only crossed midfield once, a drive that ended in a missed field goal.

“Braden River is the best team in Manatee County I think. To hold them to three points, good job,” Franklin said. “Still, we had some missed assignments. But I’m pleased with the way they played.”

Against the Hornets, who finished up 3-5 last year including a 25-0 win over Citrus, the ’Canes needed two plays to jump out in front. Colton McNeely ran 60 yards on the first snap, then Cason Williamson punched it into the end zone on a 5-yard quarterback sneak.

Weeki Wachee turned the ball over on their first two possessions, with Caleb Holloway picking off a pass on the first one, and Nick Freier returned a fumble recovery roughly 23 yards for a touchdown with 26.3 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

“I saw the quarterback in the backfield, he looked clueless first off. And then I saw him toss the ball out of nowhere,” Freier said. “And then my defensive end Logan Frederick came in and he knocked the kid who was trying to pick it up. I saw the ball on the ground and picked it up, and took it in.

“I feel like it really gives us a boost, especially with the oncoming eighth-graders that are coming in. And then for the kids at our school, if they want to come out, come out and play. But they’ve got to keep the same energy as our team.”

McNeely rushed for 103 yards on just six carries against the Hornets. Shaun Jonaitis ran for 50 yards on eight carries while facing Weeki Wachee.

Citrus, a playoff team two years ago, is trying to bounce back from a 1-7 campaign.

“We were in a position last year to where we were very frustrated all year long,” Franklin said. “Weeki Wachee blew us out of the water last year our first game of the season. But even to that, to play with Braden River, to play with them and hold it to 3-0 in a half to a very talented ball team, that’s always a positive.

“We’re still rebuilding our culture. I have a great group of young men and they rose to the standard, the Hurricane way, and I’m proud of them.”

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Contact Chronicle sports reporter Chris Bernhardt at 352-563-5660, or on twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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