INVERNESS — With a rare Monday night matchup, the Citrus defense dominated with five turnovers returned for scores on its way to a 41-2 thrashing of Weeki Wachee.
Playing after lightning postponed Friday’s homecoming game, the Hurricanes took just two plays to show they were ready for action. After the Hornets received the opening kickoff and ran a play, Geoff Banning intercepted a throw over the middle, returning it 15-yards for a touchdown.
The pick-6 set the tone for the eventual outcome, with the ’Canes (2-4; 2-1 District 5A-7) forcing turnovers in half of the first 10 drives for the Hornets (2-3; 1-1). At one stretch in the third quarter, the ‘Canes returned three straight fumbles for touchdowns.
“From day one, we wanted defense to be the staple of our program,” head coach Nate Varnadore said afterward. “Anytime you can take an offense like (the Hornets) have and hold them to 0, that’s a very special thing.”
If not for a deep punt by Brian Strickland in the first quarter that went out at the Citrus 1-yard line, the Hurricanes would have celebrated a shutout. The ’Canes got caught on a botched run play that lead to a safety and a 6-2 score, though the Hornets couldn’t capitalize after the ensuing kick.
The ’Canes offense had its own struggles, albeit mostly because the defense handled the scoring duties all night. In an unusual sequence, the offense was on the field for just seven drives compared to the Hornets’ 13, with 23:17 of total possession.
Jacob Freier’s 37-yard run for a touchdown with 5:23 left in the first half was the lone offensive score for the ’Canes. Conversely, Kevin Bacon, Jr., CJ Henry, Logan Fulford, Freier and Banning put TD’s up on the board for the defense.
Between its defense filling the running and passing lanes and several fumbled snaps by the Hornets, the ‘Canes held the visitors to -14 rushing yards and 59 passing yards. Fulford, Banning and Brendan Rooks each recorded 5 individual tackles.
Running back TJ Weems had 18 carries for 81 yards, most when the ‘Canes were up big with a running clock and trying to run out remaining time.
Despite homecoming festivities being held Friday in the gym after the game was rescheduled, and having to wait through the weekend, Fulford said the team was prepared. “We just had to keep our discipline throughout the whole game and not play selfish. We just had the mindset from Friday night and just kind of carried it over to today,” he added.
Following the game, three ‘Canes were given awards for their play. Christian Solomon and Jaylon Sesler were named the Most Outstanding Offensive and Defensive Lineman of the Year, respectively. Freier was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The win comes at a pivotal point for the ‘Canes, in the middle of the district standings with four games remaining, all on the road. That starts Friday at Central with a team looking for its first win of the season, with a bye week for the ‘Canes the following week before resuming their travel plans.
“We’re right now taking it a game at a time simply because if we lose focus of what’s in front of us, we’re going to get upset,” Varnadore said.