LECANTO — In one week’s time, Crystal River went from the wrong side of a shutout to the right one.
On Friday night at county rival Lecanto, the Pirates finally put some points on the board. So did the defense. So did the special teams. It all added up to a 46-0 triumph, bouncing back from a 25-0 defeat against River Ridge to open the season.
“We’re far from perfect. We’ve still got a lot of things to clean up,” Crystal River head coach Cliff Lohrey said. “But it’s a better environment to clean things up after a win than to clean them up after a loss.
“We want to be great on offense and we’re going to continue to build towards greatness on offense. But I said it last year and I’ll say it again, we have no problem being who we are: a team that’s got to play great defense, got to play great special teams, and we’ve got to continue to find our way on offense.”
The offense found the end zone on the opening possession, a plodding 10-play drive — all runs — covering 54 yards. The final four carries were by senior Noah Bresson, for a combined 36 yards, scoring from a yard out standing up at 7:38 in the first quarter.
Then the host Panthers (0-2) went three-and-out, except their punt was blocked by Evan Louden, who gathered the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown.
Two plays into Lecanto’s next drive, Daijhae Abate picked off a pass at midfield and went the distance for a 50-yard score. That made it 21-0 with 5:08 still to go in the opening quarter.
“I thought the wide receiver had ran a little route and I thought the ball was going to hit the wide receiver’s hands. It went over, I got under it,” Abate said. “I looked for open field, turned it up and scored. And my teammates had good blocking, that’s also why I scored, too. So good job for my teammates for blocking for me.
Special teams got into the act when the Panthers mishandled a punt return and Desmond Brown ended up tackling the returner in the end zone for a safety. Taylor Martin connected on an 18-yard field goal as time expired to make it 26-0 at halftime.
Crystal River’s offense pieced together another lengthy drive, 16 plays for 77 yards. Quarterback Ethan McDaniel hit on a pair of throws for 51 yards and ran for a 4-yard touchdown at 2:55 in the third. Gabe McKinney returned a fumble recovery 28 yards to pay dirt on what turned out to be the final play of the quarter due to the running clock.
Fittingly, the last play of the game from scrimmage was one more fumble recovery for a touchdown, Drew Esser going 56 yards.
“We’re very proud (of the defensive touchdowns),” Abate said. “We always practice scoop and score in practice, and we scoop and score in the game.”
A week after showing positive signs offensively in a 44-22 loss to Fivay, Lecanto produced 70 yards of total offense and lost quarterback Ryan Rogers to a knee injury.
“We didn’t play very well. I didn’t have us ready to go. That loss is on me,” Lecanto head coach Greg Harper said. “Rivalry games, a lot of times what ends up being the difference is who holds on to the ball and who doesn’t. We didn’t hold on to the ball tonight. Credit to Crystal River, they had a good game plan, came in here and executed, and took it to us.
“It’s early in the season. We’re making mistakes we don’t need to be making at this point in time. That’s the great thing about football. Right now we’ve got another week next week. We’ll get to practice, try to fix some of these mistakes and see if we can’t win a game next week.”
Meanwhile, the Pirates should have significantly more positive vibes as they prepare for a meeting with Dunnellon next Friday. Bresson had a solid all-round night, rushing for 65 yards with the touchdown and a 2-point conversion run, catching three passes for 85 yards, and generally wreaking havoc on defense.
“It’s a pretty resilient group, which I’m pleased with,” Lohrey said. “We had a great week of practice. Playing a county rival I think helps keep that sense of urgency.
“But I have no problem saying that it’s a significant win this early in the season. When you start off with high expectations and you don’t meet them game one, to bounce back, it’s significant.”