It seems that all year long the undefeated Zephyrhills High Bulldogs have thrived on the big play.
If it wasn't a Mike Barber scamper for a 50-yard touchdown, it was a B.J. Booker interception return for a touchdown or a Shawn Daughtery lob to Josh Willis in the back of the end zone.
So Friday night, in front of close to 7,000 East Pasco football fans at Bulldog Stadium, the Bulldogs pulled a few more magic tricks from the hat in a 23-20 win over Pasco.
Late in the second quarter, Zephyrhills' stingy defense forced the Pirates to punt and Jeremy Gude's booming 37-yard boot gave the Bulldogs first down on their own 12-yard line.
Sensing that the time was right for one of those patented momentum-building strikes, coach Tom Fisher called for one and, thanks to a remarkable touch of concentration, the Bulldogs delivered.
On first down, Daughtery took his five-step drop, glanced left to tight end Booker, turned to the right and lofted a hanging deep pass in the direction of star receiver Damien Pickett.
Properly covered by cornerback Cleo Stinyard, Daughtery's pass needed to be precise and on the fingertips. It wasn't, and Stinyard, keeping pace with Pickett, seemed set to make the interception. But the two collided and Pickett leaned back, snared the ball from a falling Stinyard, and scampered 50 yards untouched for an 88-yard touchdown pass.
"I saw it going into his hands and really thought he was going to intercept it," said an elated Pickett at the end of the game. "I knew that I had to do something, had to try to make a play.
"I turned back and it went right through his hands and into mine. The key to it was concentrating on the ball. If I hadn't been focused, I would have dropped it."
"That was a huge play and may have been the play of the game," said Pasco head coach Perry Brown. "It hurt us at the end of the half, but I didn't think we were out of it."
They were not. In fact, the Pirates roared back late in the fourth quarter, and when Pasco quarterback Artie Meza hit flanker Morgan Evans for a 13-yard touchdown, the Pirates had the lead with 4:30 left to play.
Zephyrhills then did what it knew best. The Bulldogs ran off two first downs on two straight plays and Daughtery hit Rick Moore two plays later for a game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass. The drive took just over 2 minutes.
But with Pasco's deadly wing-T offense back on the field in good position and 2:13 left on the clock, Zephyrhills needed one more gem.
On first down at his own 35-yard line, Meza tried to execute a quarterback draw play that had worked successfully all night. The Bulldogs linemen were waiting and pounced like a bunch of angry pit bulls. Smothered by a host of tacklers, Meza fumbled and Gary Steele recovered to give Zephyrhills possession and secure the win.
The big-play Bulldogs had done it again.
"We have had a lot of luck making the big play," Pickett said. "But it's not like we set out to do it. They are not designed that way. All we want to do is get the first down, and whatever happens after that just happens."
"That's what they did, they made the big plays when they needed to," Brown said. "They played a hell of a ballgame and I have to give them credit for that."