CRYSTAL RIVER — The start of Friday night’s home game against Springstead couldn’t have been any prettier for Crystal River, with a touchdown 12 seconds into the contest. Unfortunately, there was a lot of ugliness over the final 47 minutes and 48 seconds for the Pirates, in a 14-7 loss.
The Pirates lost arguably their top playmakers on offense and defense to injuries during the game, committed eight penalties for 65 yards — several of those at key moments — and generated only 152 yards of total offense to fall to 1-4 on the season.
“It hurts because we’re battling. We’re fighting,” Crystal River head coach Cliff Lohrey said. “Springstead is a great football program, great football team. And yet I really thought we had our chances. We put a lot of work into it and we’re still hurting ourselves. One bad play snowballs into two and sometimes three. Part of that is maturing. Part of that is going through the experience of the disappointment. I love this team because I know they’re going to continue to battle.”
The Eagles decided to kick short to start the game, right into the arms of David Paulen, who raced through the defense 70 yards for a score. Zach Van Fleet’s extra point made it 7-0 Pirates before most fans had a chance to get into their seats.
Springstead tied the game midway through the first quarter on a seven-play, 54-yard drive and took the lead late in the third quarter on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that seemed to take up most of the quarter.
On that go-ahead drive, injury was added to insult, when top rusher Joel Velazquez injured his ankle trying to make the tackle on the touchdown run. He would not return to the game.
That was added onto the Pirates losing defensive standout Dwann McCray to an apparent knee injury in the first half. He came into the game as the team’s leading tackler by a wide margin and also had several tackles for a loss and three sacks on the season.
“That’s the unfortunate part of the game. The cliche is next man up. But that’s easier said than done,” Lohrey said. “And not only just for the personnel movement you have to make and the domino effect that has, but those guys care about each other too. No matter how much you preach that mentality, those guys still know their brother is hurting.”
Both teams had chances to break the 7-7 tie late in the second quarter, but field goal attempts by both kickers fell short. Crystal River’s Van Fleet just missed a 52-yard attempt at the halftime horn.
“I feel pretty confident before he graduates he’ll hit a 50-yarder and maybe multiple. He’s a great kicker,” Lohrey said.
Velazquez finished the night with 76 rushing yards before leaving with the injury. Quarterback Michael Tovine rushed for 28 yards and went 7-for-14 passing for 47 yards. Hudson Copeland had three grabs for 24 yards and Paulen had two catches for 17 yards.
“Credit to Springstead. They came in only allowing 17 points on the season with three shutouts. We thought we could move the ball and score some points. We just weren’t able to finish any drives,” Lohrey said. “I told our guys we’re in a hole right now, and no one is going to come and pick us up out of that hole. We have to do it ourselves.”
Owen Andress led the Eagles offense with 106 yards rushing and two short touchdown runs. Nick Centola passed for 76 yards, including 35 to Caidell Gilbert on a spectacular diving grab to keep the second Springstead (4-1) touchdown drive alive.
The Pirates host Lake Weir for Homecoming next Friday.