Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Column: Pasco star adds another big play to his resume

ZEPHYRHILLS

It is Malik Johns' team.

Why wouldn't the biggest play of the season be his, too?

With 5:20 remaining, Johns took an inside handoff — probably designed to gain a few yards and run some time off of the clock — changed directions when the block didn't materialize, broke outside and sprinted 61 yards, untouched, to a touchdown.

The score put Pasco ahead of archrival Zephyrhills 24-16 and was the biggest blow in a game ultimately decided, as it often is, by the best player on the field.

Pirates coach Tom McHugh wasn't surprised.

"This is Malik's team, and I've said it since the beginning of the season," said the coach, who raced to midfield to give the senior a bear hug when Johns sealed things with an interception on the last play.

A back-and-forth battle, with Zephyrhills putting together two long scoring drives but little else and Pasco getting the big plays — a recovered fumble in the end zone, 53-yard touchdown reception by Nate Craig — came down to some Johns magic.

He has been doing it all season — 17 touchdowns via rushes, receptions and returns — and he did it once more.

The second he saw daylight, with just one man to beat, he knew it was over.

"I was pretty sure I could get by him," said Johns. "When I get to the hole, I just put my head back and run as fast as I can, and I don't think anyone catch me."

Friday night, no one could.

Hollywood crowd

You know when you watch a movie or TV show about high school football and the stands are packed and the fans are lined up around the field? But that's never what you actually see on real Friday nights?

You saw it at Zephyrhills.

Best atmosphere I've been in all season. Probably a few seasons. Maybe ever.

Nothing quite like it.

Fans showed up at 5 p.m. Both sides were almost full a good 40 minutes before kickoff, and they were lined up around the fence three, six, nine deep. It felt like the crowd was on the field, overlapping the corners of the end zones, and it swallowed up Johns after his winning touchdown score.

My guess? About 6,000, though Zephyrhills grad Joey Knight tells me he would guess 4,500.

Did you know?

Pasco never trailed, scoring first when Lane Stancil recovered a fumbled snap in the end zone.

Biggest play before the biggest play

On third and 5 with 5:45 remaining. Johns was dragged down for a 1-yard loss by Kevin Lee, and the Bulldogs, trailing 17-16, believed they had forced a punt.

One problem: Lee dragged Johns down by his face mask, giving the Pirates 15 yards and a first down.

Next play, Johns broke free for his touchdown.

Unsung heros

The Pasco defense was exceptional, taking away the jet sweep and stuffing the once-explosive Bulldogs all night with seven sacks.

For a team that entered putting up 36 points a game, the Bulldogs looked awfully plain.

"All year, nobody rushed those guys. They dropped back and tried to cover," said McHugh, a defensive whiz when it comes to game preparation and adjusting.

"There's an old adage: If you don't want to cover for a long time, rush 'em."

Jacob Morphew was unblockable. Brandon Debya and Bowman Archibald made a number of big plays.

"It was awesome," Morphew said.

Head scratcher

Facing fourth and 3 at the Pasco 30 with 1:34 remaining in the game, Zephyrhills inserted Justin Swanstrom at quarterback.

A tight end mostly, the 6-foot, 200-pounder pulled the ball down and tried to run for a first down but was stopped by Archibald.

With all the speed on the Bulldogs roster, most onlookers found it strange they didn't go with a quicker option such as starter Ty Tanner or Devon Brockington, Jordan Roberts or Jaylen Pickett out of the wildcat.

John C. Cotey can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Can the Lightning win the Stanley Cup?

Can the Lightning win the Stanley Cup?

When it comes to the Tampa Bay Lightning these days, there's only question that really matters:Can the Lightning win the Stanley Cup?That's it. That's the big question. That's the only thing on everyone's mind.Will it or won't it?Does this team, whic...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Live blog: Rays open spring training season against Pirates, Orioles

Live blog: Rays open spring training season against Pirates, Orioles

The Rays open the exhibition season with not one, but two games today.Non-roster pitcher Vidal Nuno will start against the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. in Port Charlotte. Denard Span, Matt Duffy, Kevin Kiermaier, Wilson Ramos, Mallex Smith and Adeiny Hechava...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs need a backup plan at quarterback; best bets are Ryan Fitzpatrick or (maybe) Mike Glennon

Bucs need a backup plan at quarterback; best bets are Ryan Fitzpatrick or (maybe) Mike Glennon

TAMPA – Finding a quarterback is a big priority for the Bucs this off-season. That's not a misprint. No, they're not looking to replace Jameis Winston. Far from it. But they may need to find their version of the Eagles' Nick Foles — excep...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Kevin Knox named in Yahoo story on potential NCAA violations

Kevin Knox named in Yahoo story on potential NCAA violations

Kentucky's Kevin Knox, a former standout at Tampa Catholic, was named in a Yahoo Sports story about the possible NCAA violations involving prominent players and schools.Yahoo obtained documents detailing the expenditures of agent Andy Miller and...
Updated: 2 hours ago
USF women set for emotional senior night

USF women set for emotional senior night

In nearly two decades as USF women's basketball coach, Jose Fernandez mostly has excelled in bawl control, especially during poignant moments such as senior night.But he acknowledges he may check his stoicism at the Sun Dome entrance Saturday, when L...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays’ Honeywell has torn UCL, headed for Tommy John surgery

Rays’ Honeywell has torn UCL, headed for Tommy John surgery

The Rays got the worst-case news they were dreading, that top prospect RHP Brent Honeywell has a torn UCL and is headed for Tommy John  surgery.Honeywell said he plans to have the surgery as soon as possible to expedite his return sometime in th...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Despite warnings to stay in school, Chase Litton confident about draft prospects

Despite warnings to stay in school, Chase Litton confident about draft prospects

As he made the tough decision whether to return to Marshall for his senior season, quarterback Chase Litton reached out to the NFL's advisory committee, which gives underclassmen a sense of where they're likely to be drafted should they leave early."...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Erik Karlsson-to-Lightning talk won’t die down until deadline is over

Erik Karlsson-to-Lightning talk won’t die down until deadline is over

Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson did not speak to the Ottawa media after Thursday's loss to the Lightning, but he sure seemed chatty with his Tampa Bay friends.But Karlsson, 27, took his time talking up several members of the Lightning's staff ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
For starters: Split squad opener for Rays – vs. Pirates and at Orioles, 1:05

For starters: Split squad opener for Rays – vs. Pirates and at Orioles, 1:05

With 15 teams training in Florida,  there usually has to be either be at least one team off or one team playing two games. And with today the official opening day of spring training, the Rays had the bad draw of having to play split squad games....
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays spring training info: Friday – vs. Pirates and at Orioles

Rays spring training info: Friday – vs. Pirates and at Orioles

Friday's games:Vs. Pirates1:05, Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte. Pitchers: Rays – LH Vidal Nuno; Pirates – RH Taylor Eppler.Radio: raysbaseball.com, MLB At Bat app (free with mlb.com account)Tickets: raysbasebal...
Updated: 5 hours ago