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DADE CITY — Friday night’s 9-Mile War showed why the district title has stayed in Pasco the past few years — and why the Pirates might stay in control for years to come.
Senior athlete Janarion Grant scored five touchdowns, and standout freshman Nate Craig-Myers caught a score and intercepted two passes to lead Pasco to a 56-17 win over Zephyrhills. The victory gave the Pirates the Class 5A, District 6 championship and sends the Bulldogs to Monday’s tiebreaker with Fivay and Anclote to decide the runnerup.
“It’s never old,” said Grant, a Division I recruit with a dozen scholarship offers.
Zephyrhills (5-4, 5-2) and the rest of the North Suncoast might disagree.
Grant wasted no time in starring in the last 9-Mile War of his career, rushing for a highlight-reel 29-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage for Pasco (9-0, 7-0). After the Bulldogs cut the deficit to four with Zach Gleaton’s 35-yard field goal, Grant struck again.
He took a pitch for 63 of his 135 rushing yards for his second score of the game to put his team ahead 14-3.
“That kid’s just special,” Bulldogs coach Reggie Roberts said. “We practiced all week trying to contain him. But how do you contain a lion?”
Grant kept roaring.
Lining up at quarterback, he took a snap 7 yards into the end zone late in the second quarter, and he returned the opening kickoff of the second half 78 yards for another score. He bowled through a handful of tacklers in the final quarter for a 10-yard touchdown.
“I just tried to come out and do my job,” Grant said. “My team did their job.”
Pasco’s other top offensive recruit, running back David Emmanuel, leapt over the line for a 1-yard touchdown rush — his 13th of the season, and junior J.D. Edwards intercepted a pass and returned it 56 yards for a score.
But Craig-Myers stole the rest of the show. With Pasco up 11 points in the first quarter, he recovered a fumble at the Zephyrhills 30.
The 6-foot-3 speedster returned a second-quarter interception into Bulldogs territory to set up a Grant touchdown, and he killed a Zephyrhills drive in the fourth quarter with another pick.
He added his fifth touchdown of the season late in the second half on a 29-yard catch and run on a pass from Ben Chandler.
“He will be another phenom,” Pasco coach Tom McHugh said of Craig-Myers, the younger brother of current Purdue standout Josh Johnson.
Zephyrhills kept the game interesting with two third-quarter scores — one on a 67-yard bomb from quarterback Mike Smith to sophomore Jaylen Pickett and another on an 11-yard rush by junior running back Malik Mutcherson — but quickly turned its attention to Monday’s do-or-die tiebreaker.
“We gotta start getting ready right now,” Roberts said.
Emotion boiled over late in the rivalry, and the teams engaged in a second-half scuffle in which one Pirate was ejected.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.