DADE CITY — Sunlake’s formula on offense is to run the ball, shove people around and play with the finesse of a smokestack.
The main beneficiary of this physical approach is running back Nathan Johnson, who gained 1,504 yards last season. Johnson got plenty of carries in Friday’s season-opener against Pasco. At times, he was bottled up, but Johnson was able to find enough wiggle room to rush for two touchdowns to lead the Seahawks to a 17-13 victory over Pasco.
It was Sunlake’s second straight win in the series. The Seahawks won last year’s opener 17-6, snapping the Pirates 44-game win streak against Pasco County opponents that dated back to 2007.
“Pasco was once again a huge challenge for us,” Sunlake coach Bill Browning said. “We corrected our mistakes after last week’s Steinbrenner game and just came through with a lot of big plays, especially on defense.”
Much like last year’s game, Sunlake relied on an opportunistic defense and a punishing run game.
In the first quarter, the Seahawks recovered two fumbles, one which thwarted a drive and the other which set up Johnson’s 5-yard touchdown run to give Sunlake a 7-0 lead.
The Pirates countered in the second quarter as Jokiah Felder ran 45 yards for a score in the second quarter to tie the game. Pasco had a chance to take the lead but an illegal block wiped a 48-yard run for a touchdown.
In the second half, Johnson was used more as a closer, hammering his 205-pound body into defenders on guileless runs up the middle. Johnson didn’t break many runs, gaining just 54 yards. But he scored his second touchdown on a 7-yard run in the third quarter to give the Seahawks a 14-7 lead and his running helped set up a 39-yard field goal by Chris Wilkinson in the fourth quarter to make it 17-7.
Pasco tried to rally, but Sunlake’s defense recorded a sack and recovered a fumble to stop one drive. The Pirates scored in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter on Grant Starling’s 6-yard TD pass to Brandon Ray, but the extra point was blocked.
Sunlake recovered the ensuing onsides kick to seal the game.
Stars of the game
RB Nathan Johnson, Sunlake: Ran for 54 tough yards, scored twice and did not fumble.
QB Dayton Feiden, Sunlake: Though Feiden only threw for 89 yards, he was effective, turnover-free and kept Pasco off balance.
QB Grant Starling, Pasco: He was 16-of-28 for 139 yards and threw a touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation.