The Pasco High football players said they feel "cheated," but the end result is that the Class 3A, District 4 race has become a sprint to the finish. The Pirates entered Friday night's homecoming game against South Sumter in command of the district with a 6-1 record. But now the Pirates are in a dogfight after losing at home to the Raiders 21-10.
Tampa Catholic, which defeated Lecanto 20-6 Friday night, moves to the top of the district at 6-1 (7-1 overall). Pasco falls to 6-2 in the district, while Tampa Jesuit and South Sumter are both at 5-2.
South Sumter was coming off a loss to Lecanto, which had lost its previous 17 games. Pasco had beaten the same Lecanto team 55-0 earlier in the season.
"We've got to beat Tampa Catholic to have a chance (for the district title)," Pasco quarterback Dee Reed said. "Our season isn't over. No way it's over."
The Pirates will play Tampa Catholic on the road Friday at 7:30 p.m.
"That's it, that's our season next week," said Pasco's Mike Penix, who rushed 18 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. "We have to beat Tampa Catholic."
Pasco was in command of the game, leading 14-8 late in the third quarter.
South Sumter had just scored on the previous drive, but the Pirates appeared to have answered when Penix sidestepped a tackle attempt and tightroped the left sideline for a 49-yard touchdown run.
The score would have given Pasco a 20-8 lead. But an official ruled that Penix stepped out of bounds at the 28-yard line.
Pasco coach Perry Brown ran and pointed to Penix's cleat marks on the sidelines. He was angry. The crowd booed the call.
"We were cheated," Penix said. "I didn't step out. I already was around the corner."
"Yeah, we were cheated," Penix' teammate Darren Hambrick said to him after the game.
The Pirates could not recover. They ran for minus-11 yards on their next three plays and were forced to punt.
"We were so frustrated," Reed said.
Pasco controlled the game in the first half, building a 14-0 lead. But the Pirates' solid defense, which had allowed only 30 points in its last six games, began to erode in the second half.
South Sumter gained only 36 yards of offense in the first half. But the Raiders regrouped at halftime and had 140 second-half yards.
"They were calling audibles at the line and running away from our stunts," said Reed, who also plays in Pasco's defensive secondary. "We adjusted, but not until the end of the game."
"We just pushed them off the line of scrimmage in the second half, and they pushed us off the line in the first half," South Sumter coach Inman Sherman said. "We just told the kids to put their shoulder pads down and push."
Joe Freeman, who rushed once for five yards in the first half, gained 82 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Freeman got 50 yards on one play, when he broke through the line for a touchdown on third and three with 2:14 to play.
Pasco had a chance to come back and possibly force a tie. After completing a 10-yard pass to James Thompson, Reed tried to hit Jeff McSpaddin down field. But Reed's pass floated in the air just long enough and Tim Dorset came across the field and intercepted to clinch South Sumter's victory.
Crystal River notes
CRYSTAL RIVER _ The Crystal River defense held its ground Friday night, despite spending most of the first half on the field, waiting for the offense to find its groove.
And the Pirates offense finally did, scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a 27-7 upset of Tampa Jesuit Friday night. But the defense played a large part.
Crystal River totaled only 59 yards of offense in the first half, going three downs and out on its first three possessions. A 57-yard interception return by Stacey Daigneau set up the only score of the half, giving the Pirates possession at the Jesuit 33-yard line.
Equally significant on the interception play was a hit delivered by Tim Hitson to Jesuit quarterback Troy Kent after he released the pass. Kent was taken away in an ambulance, later returned to the sidelines, but did not see action again for the Tigers.
Once play resumed, fullback Wes Jenkins picked up 10 yards for a first down, tailback Bryant Brooks got 9 on the next play and Jenkins then ran it in from the 14.
Crystal River got the ball only once more in the half, and coach Earl Bramlett was content to run out the clock with a 7-0 lead.
The defense, meanwhile, kept Jesuit out of the end zone.
Jesuit took the opening kickoff and drove 51 yards to the Crystal River 13. But twice the Tigers were flagged for holding and three times the Pirates' secondary denied Kent an open receiver. Jesuit punted on fourth-and-28 from the Crystal River 31.
On Jesuit's next possession, two touchdown plays were called back by holding penalties. The drive ultimately ended in a missed 31-yard field goal attempt.
Daigneau's interception stopped a Jesuit march from the Tigers' 11 to beyond midfield.
To open the second half, Jesuit recovered a Crystal River fumble just inside the 50, and scored its only touchdown on a nine-play, penalty-free drive.
It was Crystal River's only defensive lapse. And the offense was soon to come alive.
After a Jesuit punt, the Pirates scored from 26 yards out in two plays. Quarterback Keith Davis hit tight end House, who was wide open for a 25-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Pirates' safety Anthony Porter set up Crystal River's final two touchdowns, twice intercepting backup quarterback Brian Lovell in the fourth period.
Hernando, Citrus notes
BROOKSVILLE _ Hernando High coach Mike Imhoff decided the direct approach would work best against Citrus High. The Leopards opted for a grind-it-out attack, evidenced by rushes on 42 of their 46 offensive plays.
"That was our game plan," said Imhoff, whose Leopards won 19-12. "We knew they'd do it, so we just decided to do it right back at the them and see whose defense won."
Citrus also ran as sophomore running back Rob Malpica was assigned the bulk of work. He collected a team-high 150 yards on 23 rushes, including an 8-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter.
But Hernando High responded with Dwayne Mobley, who answered Malpica's touchdown with a 70-yard scoring run. Mobley broke free down the left sideline for the touchdown.
"He's been shut down the past two weeks," Imhoff said of Mobley, who entered the game with 685 rushing but who was held to less than 100 in losses to Tampa Jesuit and Pasco. "But he said, "Tonight, Coach, I'm going to go over (200),' and he did. I said, "If you do it, I'll give you the ball.'
Mobley finished with 242 yards on 27 carries, including an insurance touchdown run with 32 seconds remaining.
_ TIM BUCKLEY
SPRING HILL _ Springstead Coach Bill Browning calls them a "tough twosome."
Opposing defenses just call them a nightmare.
They are Springstead running backs Dawayne Roberts and Eric Sanders. Roberts and Sanders combined for an impressive ground attack Friday night in a a 33-0 win over Hudson.
Roberts rushed for 114 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown; Sanders rushed for 105 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns.
Springstead didn't go to the pass until the second half, but then did so effectively. Quarterback A.J. Stone was 5 for 7, including two touchdown passes to Willie Waddy of 5 and 17 yards.
Turnovers played a large part in Springstead's win. Hudson quarterback David Billingsly threw four interceptions and the Cobras fumbled once. Two passes were picked off by Roberts, both setting up scores by Sanders.
Matt Weber picked off a Billingsly pass in the end zone to end a Cobra drive just before halftime. Cass Houchins killed another late Hudson drive with an interception.
_ RICK GERSHMAN
ZEPHYRHILLS _ Entering Friday's game, Dunnellon has never beaten Zephyrhills and the Tigers still haven't. The Bulldogs used a balanced running attack and tenacious defense to defeat the Tigers 21-0. Dunnellon is now 0-8-1 against the Bulldogs.
Zephyrhills running back Booker Pickett showed why he is one of the Suncoast's leading rushers as he carried the ball 25 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. He now has 831 yards and 10 touchdowns for the season. The Bulldogs outgained Dunnellon 182-26 rushing.
The passing combination of Marcus McCants to Bubba Dunn was successful as well. The two teamed up on three passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns.
Zephyrhills Coach Tom Fisher said before the game that his team knew it had not been playing its best and had something to prove after losing three straight for the first time since 1986.
"We had a bad first half against Tampa Catholic," he said. "We have to realize we have to play the whole game. Right now we're just struggling to win one."
_ JEREMY RASMUSSEN
Ridgewood, Gulf notes
NEW PORT RICHEY _ In Ridgewood's 28-0 victory over Gulf Friday, the Rams snapped a 6-game losing streak to their arch rival.
Ridgewood's running tandem of Bill Niehr and Jamie Ballew combined for 223 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Coach John Castelamare commended Gulf.
"Gulf plays a tough schedule year in and year out, and are a lot better than their 2-5 record indicates," Castelamare said.
Ridewood's defense played its strongest game of the year never allowing the Buccaneers to cross their 40 yard line.
Gulf was held to a season-low 84 total yards.
_ JOANNE KORTH
BROOKSVILLE _ For the third straight week, turnovers plagued the Central High football team. But you would never have guessed that based on the Bears' 39-0 victory over Hawthorne Thursday night.
Central (5-2) fumbled six times and lost three. Quarterback Alex DeGracia was also intercepted twice.
That's 22 turnovers _ 13 lost fumbles and nine interceptions _ in three games. Central's miscues proved costly in losses to Sarasota-Cardinal Mooney and Clermont, but that was not to be the case against Hawthorne (0-8).
Central was able to get away with its mistakes thanks to Hawthorne's own penchant for giveaways and an inept offense.
Central recorded four interceptions: two by sophomore Kevin Alexsuk, one each by junior Cleve Pope and sophomore Tyrone Goodson, who returned his pickoff 80 yards for the Bears' third touchdown.
The Hornets were held to 16 yards rushing, 74 yards of total offense and were forced to punt 10 times. Central coach Barry Gardner credited the Bear defense, which sacked Hornets quarterbacks Cecil Brown and Donald Taylor eleven times.
"That's the most intensity we've shown this year on defense," Gardner said.
Meanwhile, Central's offense clicked when it wasn't coughing up the ball.
Kevin Kanaar rushed 19 times for 132 yards, including touchdown runs of 1, 16 and 28 yards. DeGracia completed his first pass attempt to Goodson for a 56-yard touchdown on the Bears' opening drive. And Steve Roundtree took a handoff from tailback Fred Scrivens to score on a 9-yard reverse.
About the only thing that prevented the Bears' from piling up more points was a fast fourth quarter. Both team's head coaches agreed the period should be shortened from 12 minutes to 10, ostensibly to allow for a quicker end of Hawthorne's misery.
What Gardner wasn't counting on was a clock that apparently ran nearly continuously in the fourth quarter. Gardner was displeased with the rapidly disappearing seconds, saying he wanted to get his younger team members some varsity playing time.
_ TIM BUCKLEY
Land O'Lakes notes
EAST LAKE _ Every game, wide receiver Mike Viccione adds to his county-leading totals. And Land 'O Lakes continues to pile up its own team totals.
Despite stellar performances by Viccione and quarterback Scott Thomas, the Gators were beaten 31-7 by Class 4A, District 8 rival East Lake Friday night.
The Gators fell to 1-4 in the district and 1-6 overall. East Lake upped its record in the district to 2-1 and 3-4 overall.
Viccione caught eight passes for 60 yards. The sophomore wide receiver leads the county with 32 receptions for 511 yards. Thomas completed 10 of 12 passes for 87 yards.
_ WAYNE McKNIGHT
LECANTO _ Senior Mark McTarsney put on a virtual one-man show Friday night when Lecanto fell 20-6 to Tampa Catholic.
McTarsney gained 99 yards on 25 rushing attempts. He also saw action at quarterback in the second half and threw a 42-yard option pass for a touchdown to C.J. Natteal midway through the fourth period to account for the Panthers' points.
Junior J.J. Reynolds made his first start at quarterback for Lecanto in place of Willis O'Steen, who sustained an ankle injury in a win over South Sumter the previous week. Reynolds was sacked twice for minus-17 yards, and completed three of 10 passes for 22 yards.
Place kicker Brian Bova, who is normally a steady performer, had an off game. He missed the extra-point following the touchdown pass, and missed field goal attempts of 35 and 37 yards.
On the plus side, Bova replaced O'Steen as punter and averaged 35.5 yards on four punts.
Lecanto got fumble recoveries from Barclay Shoemaker, Natteal and Mark Mohrmann. Shoemaker's recovery killed a Crusaders' drive at the Panthers' 12-yard line in the first period.
Tampa Catholic tailback Willie Queen didn't have an exceptional game as a runner, gaining 53 yards on 18 attempts. But he scored once on a 2-yard run and burned the Panthers with a catch of a Kevin Dawson pass in the flat that went 70 yards for a touchdown.
Offensively, Tampa Catholic gained 233 yards through the air and 113 on the ground.
_ TERRY ORGAN