David Pieklik: Corespondent
LECANTO — Lecanto held on for a wild 13-12 win over Crystal River in flag football Wednesday, withstanding a final play near their end zone to take the district victory.
The Pirates nearly rallied from a 13-0 first half deficit before alternate quarterback Zahria Jenkins dropped the snap on a two -point conversion attempt with seconds left in the game. With the win, the Panthers (2-1) gain a potential playoff advantage, after splitting their season series with Citrus.
Panthers quarterback Madison Frankowski completed 10 of 19 passes with two touchdowns and an interception, staying composed all afternoon despite steady Pirates defense. She said afterward that the team’s seniors are playing with passion this year and she’s seen improvement over last season.
“We feel great; our confidence level has definitely risen over the seasons,” she said.
The loss spoiled the district opener for the Pirates (2-1 overall, 0-1 district), with the team struggling most afternoon until the very end.
“We got off to a really slow start. We just lacked a lot of discipline, made a lot of mistakes in the first half,” Pirates coach Tony Mason said afterward. “Playing down 13-0 from half, coming from behind, it was a lot to put on our team.”
Playing at home and with a renewed confidence after struggling last season, the Panthers built a lead quick with Frankowski connecting with receiver Cassandra Swartz on the Panthers’ eight-play first possession. The drive was kept alive by a big fourth down conversion, with Frankowski hitting Hannah Herber over the middle to get the ball to the Crystal River 15-yard line.
Following the score, the Panthers failed on a one-point conversion attempt to keep the score at 6-0.
The Pirates turned the ball over on downs their ensuing possession when quarterback Shirley Kortendick was sacked by Alexis Evangelista on a fourth down conversion attempt. Two plays later, the Panthers found the end zone again on a Frankowski pass to Keirsten Kaufmann.
A successful one-point conversion had the Panthers leading 13-0.
From there, both defenses engaged in a back-and-forth battle with the Panthers and Pirates trading punts and interceptions. Minutes into the fourth quarter, Jenkins hit Kortendick — who had moved to receiver — on a 65-yard touchdown pass to narrow the Panthers lead to 12-6, with a missed conversion attempt.
The Panthers played conservative to burn time off the clock before punting to the Pirates with a little under two minutes remaining in the contest. Jenkins completed three of four passes, the biggest to receiver Shawny Murphy over the middle, as the senior extended the ball past the goal line for the score before her flag was pulled.
With Panthers in disbelief and Pirates fans celebrating, the Pirates lined up for a two-point conversion attempt to take the lead. However, just as the ball was snapped, Jenkins appeared to take her eye off the ball, dropping the snap for a dead ball and ending the play.
Frankowski took a knee the next play to end the game.
Mason said afterward that being early in the season, he’s confident his team will rebound and make the necessary changes. Panthers coach Rick Keeran credited his 13 seniors for playing more controlled, saying, “They understand the game more. More confidence and more confidence makes the play better.”