DADE CITY — Tim Saylor's biggest football memory had been a blocked punt he made in a middle school game. The ball bounced off him and into the end zone resulting in a safety for a two-point win.
Now he'll have a better story to tell his grandkids one day.
On a night when Pasco's defense proved crucial, Saylor's block on a North Marion extra point proved huge in a 13-12 win in a Class 3A region final.
Pasco (12-1) will host Tallahassee Godby next week in a state semifinal, marking the Pirates' second trip to the final four. The last Pasco team did it in 1992, finishing 14-0 to win the 3A title.
"It's kind of one of those moments," Pasco coach Tom McHugh said. "I never thought it would have been possible. I told the kids they are a special group of kids at a special time, and they're overachieving."
That certainly could be said of Saylor. He said once the ball was snapped the kid in front of him simply moved aside to block someone else. Saylor slipped through the hole and smothered the kick attempt by Colts senior Braden Camire to maintain a 7-6 lead in the second quarter.
Pasco's coaches had stressed the little things, and they had plenty of proof that even the smallest details could have big ramifications. Pasco had experienced the sting of an 18-17 loss to Nature Coast, a loss that came down to the Sharks punching in a two-point conversion late. Pasco then experienced jubilation after Gulf missed an extra-point attempt in the first meeting, a 21-20 Pirates victory.
"Special teams is a huge thing," McHugh said. "We won a game by one, we lost a game by one and we won another one by one. …They never gave up. That was the difference."
Also crucial was the defense, which forced six turnovers.
As North Marion (9-4) struggled to retake the lead in the second half, the Pirates' defense, which has allowed a mere 12.08 points per game, forced three turnovers on North Marion's final three possessions. The final blow came when Pasco senior Jarrod Carmody stripped North Marion running back Eddie Rocker (25 carries, 117 yards) and recovered the fumble with one minute, 40 seconds left to seal the victory.
"We have 11 guys on defense that play to the whistle as hard as we can play," McHugh said. "We were overmatched physically. Those guys were strong. …You have to want it more than you fear it."
Pasco opened the game with a huge surge of energy thanks to senior Josh Johnson intercepting Chuckie Looney. That set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Sampson. Looney finally connected with receiver Jordan Fulford in the second quarter for a 36-yard touchdown, but the Colts trailed 7-6 after Saylor's block.
In the third quarter, Pasco kicker Brennan Allen nailed a huge 45-yarder for a 10-6 lead. The Colts answered for a 12-10 North Marion lead after another failed kick, this one simply too short.
"It feels great," Johnson said. "I never thought we would go this far. I've never been this far in my life. Every time in baseball I get stuck (in the region final). This feels great."