DADE CITY — As Nature Coast’s hero limped toward his team, a conquered Pirate flag with an impaled Pasco helmet rose above the visitors’ end zone at W.F. Edwards Stadium.
“Sink the ship!” the Sharks chanted.
NCT did that once again, using fourth-quarter magic to rally from 19 down and torpedo powerhouse Pasco with a 29-28 victory. The Pirates (2-2, 0-1) saw their Class 5A, District 6 championships suffer a major blow and have lost all three games against NCT — by a combined five points.
“They may have more talent than we do,” Sharks coach Charles Liggett said, “but tonight …we had something a little bit more, I guess.”
That something was DeShawn Smith, who battled cramps all night but rushed for 115 yards and scored three of his team’s four touchdowns — including the highlight-reel winner with 2:48 left.
NCT (2-2, 2-0) needed his heroics after Pasco jumped to a 19-0 lead, thanks to touchdown catches by Nate Craig and Bowman Archibald and Jaquan Clower’s 8-yard TD rush.
But the Sharks’ black-shirt defense kept them in the game. Bryant Warkentine and Christian Maner both recovered first-quarter fumbles inside the NCT 30 to end scoring chances.
Smith finally sparked the offense with 1:27 left in the first half, when he raced 40 yards for a score. Two plays later, he scooped a Pasco fumble and sprinted 23 yards into the end zone — and added the two-point conversion rush for good measure.
“It’s just about how bad you want it,” Smith said.
After Pasco’s Malik Johns started the second half with a touchdown rush, NCT’s Joseph Leonard snagged an interception — one of the Pirates’ five turnovers. That set up Maner’s 9-yard touchdown.
A Pasco safety extended its lead to 28-21, so when a three and out gave the Sharks the ball at their own 33 with 6:17 left, Liggett already decided what two-point play he’d call to try to win the game.
“And I was just praying to God that we’d get that chance,” Liggett said.
And he got it, thanks to Smith.
The shifty, 5-foot-8 sophomore took a handoff at midfield and rushed to his right. The Pirates nearly dragged him down, but he kept his balance and steadied himself. He spun off of the ground, darted left, cut right and sprinted 50 yards down the sideline for his third touchdown rush of the season.
“Score,” Smith said. “Just score.”
Then NCT made the most of Liggett’s play call. Quarterback Ryan Quigley rolled left and threw to a diving Lenny Beetz for the two-point conversion to give the Sharks the first lead of the night.
Pasco had a final chance to win, but Wisconsin commit Rohan Blackwood had a key sack, and Pasco faltered on fourth down, helping the Sharks sink the Pirates.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.