Citrus rallies past Panthers in flag football Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 9:42 pm David Pieklik

INVERNESS — Citrus came alive in the second half, rallying for a 12-6 win over Lecanto in flag football Tuesday to remain undefeated in its quest for repeat championships.

The Hurricanes (3-0) were stymied for two quarters by tough defense, with the Panthers (0-1) looking poised to take the game before things turned for the home team. The ’Canes converted two crucial fourth down conversions — both leading to scores — to pull off the win.

"I think it was two fourth down conversions, that’s it; that’s their 12 points," Panthers coach Rick Keeran said of the outcome. "If they don’t convert on those fourth downs, we win 6-0. They’re stopped."

The Panthers put the first points on the scoreboard early in the first quarter, intercepting a Citrus pass and scoring on the ensuing possession. Quarterback Madison Frankowski connected with receiver Hannah Herber on a short third-and-goal pass for the 6-0 lead, with a failed two-point conversion.

The ’Canes were able to connect on numerous short passes, with Jessia Ciprius working the in route to perfection. However, the Panthers played the deep routes well, forcing incompletions or interceptions.

Trailing at halftime, the ’Canes discussed where they needed to improve before taking the field for the opening possession of the second half. The ’Canes chewed up most of the clock in the third quarter, putting a 12-play drive together that was kept alive by the first big fourth down conversion.

On 4th and 10 from the Lecanto 30-yard line, quarterback Destiny Langley threw a pass over the middle that Ciprius went airborne for, catching the ball at the apex of her jump. Three plays later, a Langley touchdown pass followed by a failed two-point conversion left the game tied 6-6.

Citrus forced the Panthers to punt on their next possession before putting another strong drive together in the fourth quarter that was yet again bailed out by a fourth down conversion. This time, it was receiver Alexis Cook catching a pass and just getting past the marker on a 4th and 13.

Two plays later, Cassie Pleus ran the ball in from the Panthers’ 5-yard line to take the lead 12-6, with another failed two-point conversion.

The Hurricanes withstood a two-minute drill by Lecanto that included a well-executed Statue of Liberty play, with the Panthers stopped by a sack and incomplete pass.

Langley ended the night 6 of 13 with a touchdown and two interceptions; Ciprius hauled in five passes, while the ’Canes defense racked up two sacks and an interception. Frankowski finished 11 of 28 with a touchdown and interception.

The two teams, which played back-to-back overtime games last season in tight contests, play each other again Thursday at Lecanto. Langley expects her team to come out more prepared that time, adding, "We’re not going to do what we did in the first half, we’re definitely going to come out with aggression and we’re going to play Citrus ball, period."

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