Fri. November 1, 2013 |
It is Malik Johns’ team.
Why wouldn’t the biggest play of the season be his, too?
With 5:20 remaining, Johns took an inside handoff — probably designed to gain a few yards and run some time off of the clock — changed directions when the block didn’t materialize, broke outside and sprinted 61 yards, untouched, to a touchdown.
The score put Pasco ahead of archrival Zephyrhills 24-16 and was the biggest blow in a game ultimately decided, as it often is, by the best player on the field.
Pirates coach Tom McHugh wasn’t surprised.
“This is Malik’s team, and I’ve said it since the beginning of the season,” said the coach, who raced to midfield to give the senior a bear hug when Johns sealed things with an interception on the last play.
A back-and-forth battle, with Zephyrhills putting together two long scoring drives but little else and Pasco getting the big plays — a recovered fumble in the end zone, 53-yard touchdown reception by Nate Craig — came down to some Johns magic.
He has been doing it all season — 17 touchdowns via rushes, receptions and returns — and he did it once more.
The second he saw daylight, with just one man to beat, he knew it was over.
“I was pretty sure I could get by him,” said Johns. “When I get to the hole, I just put my head back and run as fast as I can, and I don’t think anyone catch me.”
Friday night, no one could.
You know when you watch a movie or TV show about high school football and the stands are packed and the fans are lined up around the field? But that’s never what you actually see on real Friday nights?
You saw it at Zephyrhills.
Best atmosphere I’ve been in all season. Probably a few seasons. Maybe ever.
Nothing quite like it.
Fans showed up at 5 p.m. Both sides were almost full a good 40 minutes before kickoff, and they were lined up around the fence three, six, nine deep. It felt like the crowd was on the field, overlapping the corners of the end zones, and it swallowed up Johns after his winning touchdown score.
My guess? About 6,000, though Zephyrhills grad Joey Knight tells me he would guess 4,500.
Did you know?
Pasco never trailed, scoring first when Lane Stancil recovered a fumbled snap in the end zone.
Biggest play before the biggest play
On third and 5 with 5:45 remaining. Johns was dragged down for a 1-yard loss by Kevin Lee, and the Bulldogs, trailing 17-16, believed they had forced a punt.
One problem: Lee dragged Johns down by his face mask, giving the Pirates 15 yards and a first down.
Next play, Johns broke free for his touchdown.
The Pasco defense was exceptional, taking away the jet sweep and stuffing the once-explosive Bulldogs all night with seven sacks.
For a team that entered putting up 36 points a game, the Bulldogs looked awfully plain.
“All year, nobody rushed those guys. They dropped back and tried to cover,” said McHugh, a defensive whiz when it comes to game preparation and adjusting.
“There’s an old adage: If you don’t want to cover for a long time, rush ’em.”
Jacob Morphew was unblockable. Brandon Debya and Bowman Archibald made a number of big plays.
“It was awesome,” Morphew said.
Facing fourth and 3 at the Pasco 30 with 1:34 remaining in the game, Zephyrhills inserted Justin Swanstrom at quarterback.
A tight end mostly, the 6-foot, 200-pounder pulled the ball down and tried to run for a first down but was stopped by Archibald.
With all the speed on the Bulldogs roster, most onlookers found it strange they didn’t go with a quicker option such as starter Ty Tanner or Devon Brockington, Jordan Roberts or Jaylen Pickett out of the wildcat.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.