The only light in the Pasco locker room comes from a projector firing images of an Orlando Bishop Moore game. Pirates coach Tom McHugh asks to play portions of the clips over and over. He yells to one player, asking him to identify the formation. When he senses another might be dozing off, McHugh brings him back, asking him to name a key player for the Hornets. When tonight's game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in W.F. Edwards Stadium, McHugh expects his defense to know Bishop Moore as well as it knows its scout team.
Pasco's defensive unit has not allowed more than 20 points in a game and is holding opposing offenses to 11.3 points per game.
The general reason?
"Our defense truly works as a unit and that's why we're so successful," Pirates senior Zach Faza said. "When we tackle someone it doesn't matter who tackles someone. The defense is designed to create avenues for one another.
"For a long time Pasco had been a team of individuals instead of just being a team."
McHugh, also the defensive coordinator, has a lot of faith in this particular unit. One indication was his willingness to surrender control to defensive captain Tim Saylor.
McHugh had never done that before.
He'll call formations from the sideline, but it's up to Saylor to identify the formation and tinker with the defense until it is positioned almost perfectly.
"I tell people all the time this year we're blessed with a bunch of smart kids," McHugh said. "I used to call plays. Now the way I do it is we make adjustments during the week and they (the players) adjust it on the field."
Few can argue with the success. For a team that gets plenty of offensive attention, the defense certainly has done its part.
In five games the Pirates have allowed seven points or fewer, including two shutouts.
The unit is led by senior Dominique Wilson and his 74 tackles, and Jamie Byrd with 76 tackles and a pair of interceptions. Mark Christmas and Jarrod Carmody have a sacks battle going. Christmas sits at 91/2 while Carmody has nine.
Of course there are others.
The defense's swagger is similar to its predecessors, but the controlled calm is new.
Following a 21-20 win over Gulf in Week 10, tempers flared after the postgame handshake. McHugh quickly gathered his team and explained what might not be so easy for a bunch of teenagers to understand: winning says it all. Let the scoreboard do your talking.
"Have class," McHugh said. "The most important personal thing you can have is your integrity. These guys have it."
Izzy Gould can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 580-5315.