By Patrick Bernadeau
For Hometown News
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - Twenty-one second-half points provided more than enough of a cushion as Fort Pierce Central overcame a series of errors to defeat Sebastian River 28-6 Friday night at Calvin R. Trippett Field at Lawnwood Stadium.
Entering the contest ranked eighth in the Class 7A state poll and the RivalsHigh100 national poll at number 100, the Cobras (3-0) collected their second win in four days.
Just 96 hours earlier, Central completed a game against Palm Bay that was postponed due to lightning, picking a dramatic 14-12 comeback win.
"I'm proud of them for playing two games in one week, showing the mental toughness and physical toughness and doing a good job in winning both games," said head coach Josh Shaffer, who improved to 10-1 in career regular season games.
"It was emotional win on Monday and then you have to come back and play a team that really wants to beat you bad. They've got Division 1 players, so it was tough."
It was a game that was tough for both sides due in part to the players making it tough on themselves. The opening kickoff included a holding penalty on the Cobras. The game's opening drive included five penalties between both sides.
Sebastian River (1-2) ended their first four possessions with two punts, a lost fumble deep in their own territory and a turnover on downs.
Central didn't fare much better on their first four possessions, as they recorded a punt, an interception at the goal line, a turnover on downs and a mishandled snap on a chip shot field goal attempt.
The scoreboard didn't light up until midway through the second quarter, when Central was set up with a short field to work with following a 24-yard punt return from J.J. Stevens. After an incompletion to start the drive, the Cobras needed just three Alquan Vickers runs to open up the scoring.
Vickers, who started in the backfield in place of the injured Marcus Levy, had 69 yards on the ground and another 30 yards receiving, received the handoff on a weak side sweep to the outside and scored on a 14-yard run.
After another Sebastian River turnover on downs, the Central offense started a drive for the fifth time in Sharks territory. Despite the advantage of the short field, Cobras quarterback Sam Vaughn was intercepted by Jovante King inside the Sebastian River 5-yard line. It was King's second turnover on the night and kept the Sharks deficit to just one score entering halftime.
Central began to pull away in the second half as Stevens, on a running play similar to the Vickers' end zone romp, would score on an 18-yard weak side touchdown run to extend the Cobra lead to 14.
Vaughn, who saw Sharks in his face much of the night, struggled to 13-25 passing but was able to put up 200 yards through the air, including an 11-yard touchdown strike to Josh Knight with 7:25 left in the fourth quarter.
The Sharks were stymied for much of the night offensively by the terrific Cobra defense, recording their first play in Central territory late in the third quarter.
Down by 21 points, Sebastian River would immediately respond to the Knight score when Vero Beach transfer Nate Pryor gave his team some life following an electric 74-yard touchdown run down the right sideline on the ensuring play from scrimmage. Despite falling to convert the point after, it was suddenly just a two-score game.
Pryor, who had 117 rushing yards on 12 carries, is just getting used to things, having just one week's worth of practice with the team under his belt.
"He's still grasping the offense but after solid week of practice, Nate played exceptionally well," said Sharks head coach Randy Bethel.
"We just try to put him in positions to let his athleticism show."
After forcing a quick three-and-out, unfortunately for the Sharks, whatever ray of hope in pulling off a comeback soon was eliminated.
Sebastian River muffed the Cobra punt, as Central was able to get on top of the ball. Vaughn ended the scoring for the evening with a touchdown sneak from 2-yards out.
Despite the victory, Staffer knows his team needs to improve.
"We need to eliminate the turnovers in the red zone first," says Shaffer. "But we can fix that, we can fix a couple of things and be a little bit better."
Sebastian River begins district play on Friday when they host Okeechobee, while Central will have 13 days to fix their mistakes and prepare for their biggest test of the season.
On Sept 27, the Cobras will travel to Vero Beach to face the Fighting Indians in a matchup between the best two teams in the area. Central will try to avenge last year's 35-28 defeat.