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DADE CITY — Pasco spent all week watching film of Gainesville Eastside’s dynamic, dual-threat quarterback, Sir Jackson.
So just before Friday night’s Class 5A region semifinal, Pasco defensive back Malik Johns scrawled a two-word reminder for the key to victory on his eye black.
And Friday night, he and the Pirates followed through on Johns’ proclamation. Pasco held Jackson and the rest of the Rams scoreless and tallied seven takeaways in a 52-0 blowout victory.
“No, Sir,” Pasco coach Tom McHugh said after hearing about his player’s fashion statement. “Leave it up to the youth of today.”
McHugh’s youths will travel to Robinson next week to battle for their third region championship since 2008.
Pasco advanced there thanks to a dominant performance from one of the state’s top defenses. The Pirates (12-0) struck first on a 53-yard touchdown rush by David Emmanuel on the second play of the game.
After a sack by Jacob Morphew and Joey Ivie, Brandon Ray picked off Jackson on the next drive to set up one of Janarion Grant’s three touchdown rushes.
Grant, Pasco’s own do-it-all athlete, added a new clip to his highlight reel on the ensuing possession, after Jackson hit Jamari Walker on a short pass.
“He caught it,” Grant said, “but he didn’t realize I was right behind him.”
So Grant muscled the ball away and returned it to the Eastside 6, setting up his 4-yard touchdown rush.
Pasco’s defense didn’t stop there. Johns intercepted a pass in the end zone on the next drive to end a scoring threat.
“We just read the quarterback’s eyes,” said Johns, who added a 95-yard touchdown rush in the fourth quarter and had a 55-yard score called back because of penalty.
The Pirates’ defensive ends dominated by shutting down Jackson’s zone-read option attack. A week after Jackson ran for three scores in a 37-0 win over Anclote, Pasco held the two-star recruit with a handful of Division I offers to only 5 rushing yards. Tim Conley contained him on one side, and Morgan Flournory added two sacks on the other to boost his season total to 22.
“We were on key tonight,” said Ivie, a Florida commit.
Jackson dropped back to pass 31 times during the three-plus quarters he played quarterback. Those plays resulted in 155 passing yards, four sacks, four interceptions and two fumbles.
They also led to Pasco’s seventh shutout of the season and glowing praise from McHugh.
“I thought they played exceptionally well against a very good offensive team,” McHugh said. “Based on the film that we saw … we did better than I thought we would.”
Pasco’s offense kept the game out of reach with a turnover-free night and 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns by Emmanuel. But Pasco’s biggest stars shined on defense.
Defensive back Lane Stancil intercepted Jackson in the second quarter and recovered a fumble at the end of the third. Linebacker Brandon Debyah had his second pick of the year, and J.D. Edwards picked off Rams backup quarterback Landon Rogers in the end zone to seal the shutout in the closing minutes.
Grant said he knew that if Pasco’s line could contain Jackson in the backfield, the secondary would come through with takeaways because of their speed and Jackson’s high passes.
“We were observing that, studying that,” Grant said. “Everybody was going to sleep, waking up thinking about it.”
And writing encouragements on their face, just in case they needed one more reminder.