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EAST LAKE — All season, the East Lake Eagles have mocked their opponents, the county record book and football convention with a blistering passing game.
Pete DiNovo has passed for 1,737 yards, as he and his plethora of receivers have helped usher in an era in the county in which the passing game has come to the forefront like never before.
And the way DiNovo is zipping the football, East Lake’s passing attack might be impossible to corral. In the past two games, DiNovo has thrown for a combined 603 yards and nine touchdowns. It is those type of numbers that Palm Harbor University must try to contain when it plays the Eagles in tonight’s Class 8A, District 7 game that will decide the champion and runnerup.
“We’re starting to click now, and we’ve got all our weapons,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. “That’s helped us put up some big numbers.”
It is a testament not just to DiNovo’s arm, but to Hudson’s decision to abandon the mores of the county and turn the game over to an extraordinary quarterback and his talented receivers: Artavis Scott, George Campbell and Chris Depaolo.
Last year, the Eagles showed more balance. They had 398 rushing attempts compared to 254 passing. But running back Tyler Lane, who ran for 100 yards in seven of his final eight games, graduated and East Lake has had to battle injuries among those who were counted on to replace him.
This season, the Eagles have had 215 rushing attempts and 202 passing. The difference is in the yards. East Lake has nearly 700 more passing than it does rushing.
That’s because big plays have become the cornerstone of the Eagles’ passing attack. In seven of eight games, DiNovo has had at least one completion of 36 yards or longer.
DiNovo, who became the county's career passing leader this season, is adept at the long ball because he has a lightning-quick release and an inordinate ability to sense pressure and avoid it. He can stand in the pocket a few seconds longer, allowing deeper passing routes to develop.
He also is blessed with gifted receivers who can catch up to any pass with their speed. Scott and Campbell each have more than 500 yards this season and have caught seven of DiNovo’s 15 touchdowns.
Scott has already established himself as one of the county’s premier pass catchers after a breakout season last year in which he had 1,158 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he has been hampered by a sprained ankle much of this season. That allowed Campbell to emerge as a dependable target.
“I just knew I had to step up and make plays,” Campbell said.
It also has forced DiNovo to find other targets. East Lake has six receivers who have gained at least 100 yards this season.
“Not having Artavis for a while was kind of a blessing in disguise,” DiNovo said. “It forced us to be balanced in our passing game. Now you just can’t key on one guy. Find another team that has this many guys catching passes. It would be hard to do.”
Scott is now healthy and is making an impact. In the past two games, he has 16 catches for 361 yards and six touchdowns.
“The yards and touchdowns were more than I bargained for,” Scott said. “I didn’t think it would be like that the past few games, but I’ve really been getting after it.”
DiNovo said the big numbers are more than just having Scott back in the lineup.
“It goes deeper than that,” DiNovo said. “We’re implementing a lot more in plays and design and our offensive line is picking up blitzes. It’s just all coming together.
“We just need to keep doing that, eliminate mistakes and not get too involved in the hype surrounding such a big game.”