ZEPHYRHILLS — With just 52 seconds left in Friday’s Class 5A, District 6 matchup with Hernando, a Zephyrhills assistant turned to an official.
“Just need to run the clock,” he muttered. “That’s what I’d do.”
Instead, Zephyrhills’ Jaylen Pickett rushed for another touchdown to widen the gap and seal the Bulldogs’ 32-14 win.
With Pasco also winning Friday night, Zephyrhills and the Pirates’ 9-Mile War next week will determine the final playoff spot.
Coach Reggie Roberts enunciated each word when asked about next week’s game. “Our kids are hungry,” he said.
Zephyrhills’ last playoff appearance was in 2006. Pickett said he and his teammates are ready to make it again.
“It’s hard to turn a program around, especially when they think they can’t win,” Roberts said. “And now they know they can win.”
The coach said Hernando was the toughest team the Bulldogs have faced in the trenches. Despite this, the Bulldogs never gave up the lead, ending the first half up 17-0.
Zach Gleaton scored the first points in the game on a 27-yard field goal.
The next scoring play was a 43-yard pass, caught by Devon Brockington.
The Leopards fumbled 18 yards from their end zone, giving the Bulldogs another chance to score.
Another Zephyrhills pass for a touchdown in the second quarter, this one 12 yards, gave the Bulldogs their comfortable lead.
Roberts said though the score was impressive going into the second half, the Bulldogs missed several scoring opportunities.
The Leopards came closer to toppling their district rival in the third quarter. Ra’shaad Hart rushed 8 yards to score their first touchdown of the game.
On the Leopards’ next rushing drive, Hernando’s Jeremiah Jackson recovered a fumble and rushed 56 yards for another touchdown.
The Leopards were just three points from catching up, but were never given another chance.
Roberts said his players started to hang their heads in frustration in the third quarter, but some of his seniors started cheering, telling them to focus.
“The kids grew up a little,” Roberts said.
Both sides forced turnovers in the fourth quarter. Zephyrhills’ Ty Tanner rushed 81 yards as horns blew in the background. Pickett rushed the last 3 yards the Bulldogs needed for another touchdown.
The Bulldogs got the ball back with 2:18 left in the game, when assistants started recommending they run out the clock.
Zephyrhills’ players yelled about Pasco and playoffs and bringing it next week until Roberts told them to take a knee.
“We had some success, and then we faced adversity, and then we had some success,” he told them. “That’s how good football teams win.”
Roberts said the team wouldn’t have had this game two years ago.
“Some leadership was born tonight,” he said. “This is the leadership I’ve been looking for.”