WESLEY CHAPEL — Even as they were getting snakebitten on special teams, the Wesley Chapel Wildcats proved they just might be one.
Given little chance of defeating a numerically deeper and athletically superior Pasco club, the Wildcats (1-2) came a blocked extra point shy of forcing overtime Friday in a 21-20 defeat that, ironically, may have increased their stock locally.
"It hurts; we had our opportunities," Wildcats coach John Castelamare said. "But I think our team played well enough to know we could be contenders in our district now."
If, that is, they can hold on to the ball.
A week after committing six turnovers in a loss at Land O'Lakes, the 'Cats committed three more Friday — four if you count a punt that netted only 5 yards.
Pasco (3-0), which spotted the 'Cats a 7-0 lead on Keenan Reynolds' 33-yard touchdown run, exploited the miscues.
The 5-yard punt gave Pasco possession at the Wesley Chapel 34 midway through the second quarter. Four plays later, Purdue commitment Josh Johnson pulled off the offensive play of the game, hauling in a short pass from D.J. Clower and breaking four tackles en route to a 36-yard touchdown. Hunter Joyer, who ran for 103 yards on 20 carries, blocked the point after try.
"(Johnson) is a phenomenon," Pirates coach Tom McHugh said. "I watched him do some stuff tonight that I thought he was going to hurt himself just moving. I can't wait to get back tonight and watch it on the film."
A fumbled pitch on the ensuing Wildcats possession set up the next Pirates scoring drive, this one covering 69 yards in eight plays and ending with Jamall Haynes' 7-yard scoring run. The ensuing two-point conversion, a pass from Clower to Hakeeme Ishmar, gave Pasco a 14-7 halftime lead.
Pasco appeared poised to build a two-touchdown advantage when Wesley Chapel defensive back Arron Duncan made the defensive play of the night, stripping the ball from Clifford Phillips in mid-air and returning it for a 73-yard score.
Two plays earlier, an apparent 26-yard touchdown from Clower to Johnson had been negated by an ineligible receiver whistle.
Haynes, who led all rushers with 135 yards on 20 carries, gave Pasco a 21-14 lead with 1:13 to play in the third on a 15-yard scoring run. But Wesley Chapel immediately responded with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by quarterback C.J. West's 1-yard keeper with 8:49 to play.
West's point after attempt, however, was blocked by Jarrod Carmody. The next 'Cats possession, set up by a John Ayers interception, ended with Timmy Saylor's pick near midfield.
"I think Pasco respects us; we respect them, too," Castelamare said. "Everybody saw a pretty good game tonight. We just came out on the other side of it."