Three months before Jose Gaspar's krewe invades the streets of Tampa, a whole different set of Pirates and Buccaneers will take east Pasco County by storm tonight.
And in this swashbuckling spirit, I'm tossing conventional wisdom overboard.
I'm picking the team with the weaker schedule, thinner roster (26 players not counting JV callups) and less big-game experience.
Gulf will walk out of W.F. Edwards Stadium with its first district and conference championships tonight. Think about that — a school older than Joe Paterno can end decades of hardware deficiency. Reckon the Gulf coaches have brought that up once or twice this week?
You can bet your boiled peanuts history will be a factor. The Bucs will be geeked, stoked, juiced — whichever adjective you care to glean from the vernacular of the present-day youth.
What they won't be is one-dimensional.
As always, tailback Adrian "Bubba" Golden (1,824 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns) will get a steady feed of handoffs. The fleet 175-pound junior with the low center of gravity has run for at least 200 yards in his past six games. Exactly no one has contained him yet.
Many, however, insist he hasn't faced a defense the caliber of Pasco's. They would be right. But he still possesses a blink-of-an-eye burst through the hole and is a bear to tackle. Pasco must account for him by getting defenders near the line of scrimmage.
And when it does, Gulf will reveal facets of its offense as effective as they are overlooked.
Three hundred-pound junior Leon Orr, the Bucs' top college prospect, can dash to the flat or across the middle to haul in the occasional play-action pass — then you have to bring him down. Senior Cody Kleiner has 21 catches. Junior Will Burbridge (322 yards) is a beast on the fullback dive. And 1,000-yard passer Madison Burr? He averages 8 yards each time he runs.
To this point, you haven't seen Orr catch or Burr scamper with great frequency because they haven't had to. Gulf's first eight opponents have a combined .281 winning percentage.
Tonight, that changes. In Gulf's biggest regular-season game ever, coach Jay Fulmer sifts through every page of his playbook — and pens a new chapter in Bucs football lore.
Izzy Gould: Pasco D won't disappoint
Pasco coach Tom McHugh has prepared for this night since his days as defensive coordinator at Wesley Chapel.
Those Wildcat defenses dealt daily with the area's top running back earlier this decade — Wesley Chapel alumnus Tyrone Tomlin.
Big and bruising, fast and elusive, Tomlin pounded his way across the North Suncoast for 3,705 yards and 70 touchdowns.
McHugh's defenses threw every type of scheme and tackle at Tomlin daily. So don't expect the sight of No. 21 for the Bucs to make Pasco's second-year coach or his defense quiver.
Photocopies of Gulf junior Adrian "Bubba" Golden running wild were hanging from almost every Pasco locker Thursday morning as if there were a manhunt, and there is. The Pirates have seen several of this year's North Suncoast rushing sensation's games.
Many of these Pirates faced a similar challenge last season when they bottled up former Gulf star David Williams, who was bruised and handcuffed to minus-3 yards and a touchdown.
The Bucs turned to quarterback Madison Burr, and he went wild with three touchdowns and 252 yards passing. But Pasco answered with Josh Johnson and Jamall Haynes in a 45-34 win for the district crown in New Port Richey.
Those guys are back along with D.J. Clower, Timmy Saylor and kicker Brennan Allen, who has 50-yard range on his field goals.
There are others who helped the defending district champs claw through a demanding schedule to get here. There were big wins against perennial powers Land O'Lakes and Sebring, a back-and-forth battle at Wesley Chapel and the win that deflated Hudson in the final seconds at Cobra Stadium.
Pasco's one loss was to Nature Coast, Class 3A's No. 10 team. The Sharks brought the North Suncoast's best running back tandem of Tevin Drake and Antwan Story to do the most damage. And don't forget one huge Pirate turnover prevented Pasco from a final shot to win it.
Pasco will dress in a locker room painted red and black with images of Pirate legends staring at them from the walls above. McHugh will yell at them about defending the streets of Dade City, W.F. Edwards Stadium and the district title. Then they will walk out in silence through a crowd of moms and dads, family and friends, ready to defend Pirate Pride as the cannon roars.