DADE CITY — When Pasco marched through the 2011 regular season undefeated, Morgan Flournory sat on the sideline, waiting for the Pirates’ score to rise high enough that coaches would trust the backup to enter the game.
“I was just thinking, hopefully the second half comes soon so I can play a little bit,” Flournory said.
Flournory is overlooked no more.
The senior defensive end leads the state with 181/2 sacks, according to MaxPreps. And when Flournory and the Pirates face Gainesville Eastside in tonight’s Class 5A region semifinal, few players will be as important to Pasco’s success as the 6-foot-3 terror who mustered only three tackles as a junior.
“I think he took that and wanted to show people he’s better than not playing last year,” defensive lineman Joey Ivie said.
Flournory’s emergence from an afterthought to the nation’s No. 26 sack leader was unexpected, even at the start of the season.
Last fall he backed up two all-conference ends, Nick Wilson and Phillip Thompson, who combined for 151/2 sacks in the regular season. When both graduated, Flournory still wasn’t next on the depth chart and he remained a backup in the spring.
“He was always a smart kid,” coach Tom McHugh said. “He was always where he was supposed to be, but he never was big enough to do what he needed to do.”
So Flournory changed that in the offseason. Fueled by coaches’ decisions to keep him on the bench in the spring, he lifted weights over the summer and threw down peanut butter sandwiches and protein. He bulked up from 180 pounds last fall to 210 in September.
But when Pasco played its preseason game against Hernando, Flournory still wasn’t starting.
“I didn’t think he could do it,” McHugh said.
After what McHugh called a debacle — a 21-7 defeat to the rival Leopards — Pirates coaches shifted their personnel. Flournory is almost as tall as Ivie, the 6-foot-4 Florida commit, so Pasco put Flournory next to him on the line.
The payoff came immediately. With Ivie drawing extra defenders, Flournory notched three tackles and his first career sack in a 49-7 win over Land O’Lakes to open the season.
“I never thought I was that big compared to everyone else,” Flournory said. “After the Land O’Lakes game and I got that first sack, I wanted more and more and more and more.”
Flournory has torn through opponents since then. He ranks fourth on the team with 69 tackles and calls the signals on a defense that has allowed a state-low 60 points this fall.
Flournory spent his free class period last week digesting film, identifying his opponents’ weaknesses and tendencies. He came through with the biggest game of his career, recording 31/2 sacks, two quarterback hurries and seven tackles in the Pirates’ 34-10 win over Citra North Marion in the Class 5A region quarterfinals. But he — along with ends Jacob Morphew and Tim Conley — will be even more important for Pasco tonight.
Gainesville Eastside’s offense revolves around the zone-read option with two-star quarterback Sir Jackson, and the defensive ends are the key to stopping it. If the end crashes to the running back, the quarterback is supposed to keep the ball and run outside. If the end stays wide, the running back should take the handoff and run the other direction.
Anclote bit on Jackson’s fakes in last week’s 37-0 Eastside victory, allowing Jackson to get outside and rush for three touchdowns that put the game out of reach.
“If we stop him,” McHugh said, “they’re going to be a big part of that.”
And if Flournory helps stop Jackson and the Rams, his rapid rise from unknown backup to unlikely star will continue for another week.