Cason Williamson

Cason Williamson looks for a way around Crystal River defender David Paulen during the first half of Friday night’s game.

It seems Citrus County’s prep football teams just couldn’t wait to get back on the field this week.

Three teams will play on Thursday night this week, with two of the games at home. There’s no school in the county on Friday, hence why both Crystal River and Lecanto opted to move up their games. Seven Rivers Christian is accommodating a request by the opposing team.

Then on Friday, Citrus High will have the local stage all to itself for a homecoming celebration.

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Springstead at Lecanto, 7 p.m.

Luke Malmberg had rushed for 903 yards and 13 touchdowns entering last week’s game against Vanguard, but an injury sidelined him in the first quarter.

Now the Panthers (3-4) hope their star senior hasn’t prematurely played his final snap in a Lecanto uniform.

The initial diagnosis is a separated left shoulder for Malmberg, the same shoulder in which a torn labrum cost him nearly all of his junior season. Lecanto head coach Wyndell “Chop” Alexander said it’s believed Malmberg doesn’t have any tears this time, but he’ll still sit out against the Eagles (5-3) as he waits to visit a doctor on Monday.

“Right now we have to pray for him and hopefully get him back for the Pasco game (next week),” Alexander said.

It’s not an exaggeration to say Malmberg was a massive part of the Panthers’ offense. After quickly shifting away from the original plan to start him at quarterback, Lecanto had found a formula for success by repeatedly having Malmberg pound the ball up the middle.

“This is huge. Luke is fast, powerful, smart. He totally fulfilled that role as a running back in our offense,” Alexander said. “We’ll continue to do what we do. Everybody knows we run the ball.

“… It’ll be a running back by committee. It’s different because you can give the ball to Luke 40 times a game. We don’t want to bang up one particular guy. We’ll shuffle the deck a little bit.”

Darius Gainer, who has shown some big-play ability as a receiver and returner while also backing up Malmberg, will be asked to take on an even larger role. Austin Morando and Braeden Williams should get some carries, as well.

In this Gulf Coast 8 conference matchup, the Panthers face a Springstead squad that knows a thing or two about pounding the football. The Eagles have rushed for 1,488 yards and 14 touchdowns, primarily split between Owen Andress (555 yards, 7 TDs) and Cross Licht (519 yards, 3 TDs).

Seven Rivers Christian at St. Edward’s, 5 p.m.

It’s the regular-season finale for the Warriors (6-1) and the implications for the Sunshine State Athletic Conference playoffs are large.

Barring something unforeseen, Seven Rivers will take part in the SSAC Division II playoffs. Winning this game would likely make the Warriors the top seed and assure two home games the next two weeks.

“We need to heal up a little bit. We’re banged up right now,” Seven Rivers head coach Monty Vann said. “To get that top seed would be huge for us.”

The Warriors may have to go without quarterback Nehemiah Vann. The junior has thrown for 1,266 yards and 16 touchdowns against just two interceptions, but a hip issue is limiting his mobility and could keep him out altogether.

If that happens, much of the onus would fall to the running game, led by Brent Summers (659 rushing yards, 5 TDs), while eighth-grader J.T. Tipton would start under center.

“He’s good. The young man can play,” Coach Vann said. “But he’s also an eighth-grader.

“… If J.T. is at quarterback, we’ll control the clock and run the ball. If Nehemiah is at quarterback, we’ll get into a track meet.”

St. Edward’s (4-2) is actually tied with Seven Rivers and two other teams for 10th in the SSAC rankings. In the FloridaHSFootball.com poll, the Pirates are seventh and the Warriors are eighth.

South Lake at Crystal River, 7 p.m.

The Pirates (2-6, 1-2 5A-5) will try to shake off two tough county losses in back-to-back weeks against the Eagles (1-6).

“I take my hat off to our players,” Crystal River head coach Cliff Lohrey said. “They’re down about where we’re at right now in the season. But they have not allowed it to become an obstacle to keep us from moving ahead. It’s a group that’s passionate about playing together and they’re excited to play South Lake.”

South Lake is dealing with its second three-game losing streak of the season and has been outscored 212-78 on the year.

“Their record is deceiving,” Lohrey said. “They have a tough schedule. They’re in a really tough district with Jones and Lake Minneola. They’re a good football team. They have a new coach this year, so they’re just going through growing pains.”

Crystal River lost to Lecanto two weeks ago, 30-6, and fell to Citrus last Friday in overtime 18-16. The Pirates have just two games left in the season. They’ll host Leesburg next week to finish out the schedule.

“We’re still looking for guys who carry themselves and play with pride,” Lohrey said. “We’re still looking for guys who are competitors, guys who are able to still compete even though we’re not going to reach all of our goals this season. There’s nothing wrong with being goal-driven, but you can’t just be only goal-driven.”

Lake Weir at Citrus, Friday at 7 p.m.

After weeks of mourning the passing of sophomore Antonio Hicks, the emotions came pouring out as Citrus celebrated its win at Crystal River last Friday. To say the Hurricanes (1-5, 1-1 5A-5) needed that win was an understatement.

“It seems like this week practice was back to normal,” Citrus head coach McKinley Franklin said. “We’re back in the swing of things, doing things like we normally would have. The kids are in a good space.”

In facing Lake Weir – also called the Hurricanes – Citrus goes against a team with a similar record at 1-5 overall, 0-3 in 5A-5.

“Right now the focus is on ourselves and play good football. We’re just going to keep playing,” Franklin said. “Right now Citrus High School wants to be the best football team we can be.

“… They (Lake Weir) run I-formation, run out of flex. We have to be physical.”

Citrus will wear stickers on its helmets honoring Hicks, and also paint a tribute at midfield.

Prep Zone

Get updates and player profiles ahead of Friday's high school games, plus a recap Saturday with stories, photos, video Frequency: Seasonal Twice a week

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

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