CRYSTAL RIVER — Crystal River struggled to finish off drives, committed key penalties and only scored once on Friday night.
But when Noah Bresson picked off a pass with 1:16 remaining, all those negatives were merely teachable moments, as that play secured the Pirates’ 7-0 victory over District 5A-8 foe Hernando in front of the home crowd at Bramlett Stadium.
“It’s a huge win, 1-0 in the district. You always want to start like that, and it was a good football team,” Bresson said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we won and all that matters is the ‘W’ on the scoreboard.”
“It wasn’t pretty,” Crystal River head coach Cliff Lohrey said. “All it says is win or lose. It doesn’t say whether it was pretty or ugly. We’ll take it. We can build off of it.
“We still killed ourselves on quite a few drives, but we at least started to move closer to finding a rhythm on offense.”
It was understandable if the heads and hearts of the Hernando contingent lied somewhere else. On Friday morning 16-year-old Trevor Bowen, a sophomore on the JV team, was struck and killed by a van while walking on the side of a road.
Initially the game was postponed, but later Hernando reversed that decision and opted to play in Bowen’s honor. His No. 11 jersey was carried by the team captains for the pregame coin toss and held up on the sideline during the game.
“Today’s been a nightmare, honestly,” said Hernando head coach Rob Kazmier, admittedly drained and struggling to find the right words. “At first we were planning to play it on Monday and then the kids really rallied, and that’s what they wanted. We talked to Trevor’s parents and they said he would want to play tonight, too. So we did.”
“Just a courageous, admirable effort for them to want to play the game out of respect for Trevor,” Lohrey said. “Number one, our hat’s off to them. We’ll continue to think about their program moving forward for the rest of the year.”
The Leopards (1-3, 0-1 5A-8) were held to 127 yards of total offense and committed four turnovers.
“I think we were really physical,” Lohrey said. “I thought we tackled well. They hit the crease a few times and we had guys come up and make tackles in space. Just running to the football, lot of good effort, physical.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Evan Louden recovered a fumble to give the Pirates possession on the Hernando 41-yard line. Thanks in part to a 27-yard completion from Ethan McDaniel to Hudson Silverstone, Crystal River (2-2, 1-0) was able to punch it on a 5-yard run by Bresson with 3:06 to go in the half.
That was it for both offenses on the night. The Leopards got the ball starting on the Pirates 40 with 3:36 left and advanced to the 20 before a holding penalty pushed them back. A bad handoff resulted in Louden recording his second fumble recovery, giving Crystal River possession at the 1:55 mark.
“I feel like I could have played better. All those penalties really set me off,” Louden said. “But I made it back to make it up to my teammates for those penalties. It was one of the great feelings I’ve ever had.
“I think I was really fast up the line and I got through, and I saw the quarterback or whoever had the ball and I just hit it out and made the play.”
However, Hernando had enough timeouts to prevent the Pirates from running out the clock. They got the ball back on their own 30 with 1:22 still showing, but on the next play Bresson got the interception.
“I just dropped back in my coverage. I knew they were going to throw the ball, they had 1:40 left,” said Bresson, who also rushed for 90 yards on 11 carries. “It was a floater, all I had to do was go up and get the ball, and ice the game.
“It’s been a dogfight the whole game and you’re just happy because you’re finally relieved. You know it’s over. That whole fourth quarter was back and forth, back and forth. You didn’t know when you’d officially won the game, but at that moment you could take a deep breath and know that you got the ‘W.’”