Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

Pasco fans find it hard to deal with flaws

DADE CITY — The Pirate ship has sprung a leak. No one panic.

Live preservers? Why stock them, when you have won 59 games in 68 tries since 2007, including two state semifinal appearances?

Lifeboats? Why store them, when you have outscored the other guys 2,459-729?

Distress call to the Coast Guard? Settle back into your seats, people, and relax.

But this is what happens in Dade City — or is it Dazed City these days — when the Pasco High football team loses two games.

Two. Games.

For the first time since coach Tom McHugh was hired in 2007 at the lowest point in program history, there are questions.

A 38-game regular-season win streak was snapped in the first week at Sunlake.

A 39-game district win streak was snapped last week in a 29-28 loss to Nature Coast, though just as disconcerting — it was Pasco's first nonplayoff loss at home since 2008.

And Friday night at W.F. Edwards Stadium, mighty Bushnell South Sumter is coming to town for a district game high school prognosticator Joe Pinkos says the visitors will win by 23.

Pasco, a 23-point underdog?

What the heck happened?

Answer: high school football happened.

The team's best running back in the spring didn't make grades, the quarterback and kicker were dismissed from the team on the eve of the Nature Coast game, and the Pirates can't hang on to the ball.

In four games this year, mostly in the losses, the Pirates have lost 10 fumbles. Last year, in 13 games, they lost eight. The year before that, in 14 games, they lost two. Last week, they lost four and still only lost by a point.

Do the math: take away half those fumbles, and we might be talking about a matchup this week of unbeaten powerhouses.

"Things happen," said McHugh, "and you deal with it."

Before he lost his quarterback and kicker, McHugh was already trying to figure out where the pieces were supposed to fit. How were the mammoth holes left by Trey Dudley-Giles and Jacob Guy and Janarion Grant and David Emmanuel and Joey Ivie — all graduated to college football programs the past few seasons — going to be filled?

Now, those holes are just a little bit bigger, and some smaller ones are cropping up.

McHugh likens it a little to a game of Tetris.

"Sometimes you get used to things and then things change, and then you have to worry about it," said McHugh, who insists he isn't fretting the unusual Pasco start.

But Dade City is a tough and spoiled crowd to please. When things are right, they let you know they could be more right. And when things are wrong, they let you know, too, more loudly.

Winning 42-0 at halftime? Well, why isn't it 49-0?

Winning 38 straight games? How come you didn't win 39 straight?

A 2-2 record? Man overboard!

The Pirates haven't been a regular-season underdog since 2006, when McHugh beat a Land O'Lakes team he wasn't supposed to in his first game.

He had to beat Gulf that year to make the playoffs, and he did, 45-34. It was probably the last time the Pirates were supposed to lose.

The next year, McHugh took the Pirates to the state semifinals, kicking off an unprecedented run of county success.

The best coach guided the best players to the best stretch of seasons in Pasco County history.

Now that the Pirates are 2-2, and possibly 2-3 after Friday, folks seem all too willing to bury the Pirates at sea despite a wealth of talent that still includes guys such as Malik Johns and Nate Craig. There are three players in Pasco County with Division I scholarship offers, and they all play for McHugh.

Listen, Pasco is in trouble. If it loses to South Sumter, it will have two district losses, and that is an anchor the Pirates will have trouble shedding. They will need help to continue their playoff streak, help that may never come.

To plug the leaks and get the ship back on course will require one of McHugh's best coaching jobs ever.

But remember this, Dade City, — it won't require McHugh's greatest coaching job ever.

That came in 2007, when he inherited a program in chaos, that was coming off a 5-15 record the previous two seasons and a mutiny by players and fans.

He finished with a winning record, like he has every year since. He won district, like he has every year since. He went to the playoffs, like he has every year since.

Just something to remember Saturday morning, before you think about jumping overboard.

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

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