DADE CITY — Smoke carried off the barrel of Pasco's cannon after one last celebratory boom.
The reality of the moment began to settle in: the Pirates were one step closer to the playoffs after a crucial 28-16 victory Friday against Class 3A, District 7 rival Land O'Lakes.
The Pirates (6-1, 5-0) could clinch the district title next week with a win at Mitchell.
"You know they're a good team," Pasco coach Tom McHugh said of the Gators. "You know what's at stake to be in the driver's seat. You don't want to travel if you make the playoffs. …You have to take care of one (team) at a time."
In defeat, Land O'Lakes coach Matt Kitchie fired a few warning shots with his mouth.
The Gators (6-1, 4-1) slipped a spot behind Pasco and Mitchell, both winners Friday and each undefeated in 3A-7.
"Our season will be defined in the playoffs," Kitchie said. "That's the tradition that Land O'Lakes football has and we will continue that tradition. …We'll get Mitchell. …I'm not going to allow losing to a good team to affect our goal and our concentration. They were a better team than us tonight, but we will get them (Pasco) the next time."
This time, Pasco took advantage of two huge Land O'Lakes turnovers in the first half to sway momentum. The Gators had come out, hearts pounding through their jerseys.
Land O'Lakes took the opening drive 80 yards, capped by a Stevie Weatherford pass to Will Irwin he took 53 yards for a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
On Pasco's first possession, quarterback D.J. Clower was intercepted by Anthony Kasperitis and a Gators rout seemed imminent. Then on second down, Weatherford (16-of-27, 270 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was crushed on a hit and the fumble was recovered by Allen Wells.
Five plays later, Clower connected with Mitch Wozniak on a 41-yard touchdown to tie it at 7.
On the Gators' next drive, running back Tyler Peak fumbled and it was recovered by Pirates junior Jamie Byrd. On the next play, Clower ran 21 yards for a 14-7 lead. Clower (6-of-16, 121 yards, two interceptions) finished with a pair of touchdown runs and one in the air.
"They have a lot of pride on the defense," McHugh said. "They do hit you and they will try to take the ball from you. We would have had another couple of hits in the stomach if we didn't pick (Weatherford) off. They're going to hit you and when they do that they get turnovers."
Pasco had another big performance from freshman running back Janarion Grant, who finished with 106 yards.
"He's a phenomenon," McHugh said. "He has vision incomparable. He's just a freshman. …You want him to make a play."