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DADE CITY — What was expected to be a battle for Pasco County supremacy turned into a statement of Pasco Pirate dominance.
Missing injured Janarion Grant, the Pirates put a deflating preseason loss to Hernando behind them with a 49-7 demolition of Land O’Lakes on Friday night.
“Now I know what we have,” Pasco coach Tom McHugh told his team after the game.
What he has is the county’s top team with an army of athletes ready to be deployed in Grant’s absence. Grant, one of Tampa Bay’s top athletes with a dozen Division I-A offers, broke his hand during practice this week.
Not that Pasco (1-0) needs him yet.
After punting on their first possession, the Pirates scored on their next four. Quarterback Jajuan Henry gained 10 of his 91 first-half rushing yards on a touchdown four minutes into the game that gave Pasco the lead for good.
“Jajuan Henry is a phenomenal athlete,” McHugh said. “He talks all the time — just crazy stuff.
“I told him this week to shut up. Now it’s time to put up.”
Senior James McClinton had a breakout performance, rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown. So did junior Malik Johns, who returned one punt 75 yards for a score and took another inside the Gators red zone. He added a juggling 18-yard touchdown catch from Grant Starling in the final minute.
But David Emmanuel shouldered most of the burden. He rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, including a 1-yard score on the last play of the first half to make it 35-0.
“We came out here and proved a point to everybody,” he said.
The defense was equally impressive, holding Land O’Lakes (1-1) to only one score for the second consecutive year.
Lineman Joey Ivie, a Florida commit, tallied one sack and two other tackles for a loss, and Phillip Wilson added a fumble recovery while helping contain the Gators to only 136 total yards.
“They had a good game plan,” Land O’Lakes coach Brian Wachtel said.
“And it turned out the way it did.”
The Gators mustered only one first down in the first quarter but improved in the second half. Colin Irwin had an interception, and quarterback Ethan Weilant powered in for a 7-yard touchdown. Their offense struggled without star running back Harrison Wood, who injured his shoulder midway through the game.
Pasco adjusted quickly to life without Grant.
Grant missed his team’s preseason game against Hernando with an ankle injury, and his team came away with only one score. Grant broke his hand stiff-arming Ivie in practice. He wasn’t at Friday’s game after having surgery earlier in the day but said in a text message he would likely miss the next three weeks.
“If we can do this without Janarion,” Ivie said, “imagine when he comes back.”
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com.