Tarpon Springs head coach Ron Hawn wanted a close game Friday night and that's exactly what he got at Nature Coast Tech.
The Spongers played a back-and-forth spring jamboree that ended with defeat, but not without positives.
“The thing we wanted to get out of that was to play a close game,” Hawn said of Tarpon Springs' 26-21 varsity defeat. The game officially ended 33-24 in favor of Nature Coast after junior varsity players finished off the fourth quarter. “If we win by 40 or they win by 40, nobody gets anything out of it. One of us would go into the summer with a big head and the other guy just looks bad.”
The Spongers twice led by seven points and took a 21-17 advantage into halftime, but Nature Coast won the final quarter 9-0 to earn the victory.
Standing out Friday night for Tarpon Springs were first-year quarterback-safety Jarrett Battyanyi, defensive end-tight end Mitchell Wilcox and running back-linebacker Patrick Miller.
Battyanyi, taking over for transferred Dalton Collins, led the Spongers' run-heavy attack that featured 42 running plays compared to nine through the air.
All 42 runs were split between Battyanyi (22) and Miller (20), and Battyanyi completed 6 of 9 passing opportunities.
Wilcox provided a steady pass rush from the left end and got into the Sharks backfield on numerous occasions. The sophomore batted down a pass and recorded a sack in the first quarter. In the following quarter, Wilcox stepped up offensively by pulling down a 5-yard touchdown reception to tie the game at 7-7.
Tarpon Springs took its first lead in the second when a Nature Coast fumble was recovered and carried into the end zone by junior Brian Anderson.
The Spongers' third and final touchdown of the night came on another pass from Battyanyi, this time an 18-yarder to Casey Luckenbill.
Outshining everyone, though, was Nature Coast speedster DeShawn Smith. The freshman running back gashed the Tarpon Springs defense for over 200 yards and two long first-half touchdowns of 80 and 51 yards.
The Sharks' Rohan Blackwood entered Friday as the game's most highly regarded prospect and made his presence felt on the defensive end with two sacks.
Another of Nature Coast's stars, Jonathan Thomas, stepped up early in the third quarter to put the Sharks ahead for good. His 59-yard interception return for a touchdown provided a 24-21 lead that the host would not relinquish.
The Sharks made it 26-21 by recording a safety with less than 2 minutes to play in the third.