Soon after Anclote sealed its first playoff appearance with tiebreaker wins over Zephyrhills and Fivay, the question became whether the young Sharks program could hang with the speedy athletes of a seasoned Gainesville Eastside program.
The answer came early and often Thursday night at Citizens Field: No, Sir.
Eastside quarterback Sir Jackson rushed for three touchdowns and returned an interception for a score to end Anclote's season with a 37-0 defeat in the Class 5A region quarterfinals.
"He really hurt us," Anclote running back Willie Barrett said.
And he started early for the Rams (6-5), who advance to play the winner of tonight's Pasco-Citra North Marion game in next week's region semifinal.
The two-star recruit with a handful of college offers hit Jamari Walker on a 56-yard pass on the game's first play and rushed untouched for an 8-yard touchdown on the next snap to hand Anclote (6-5) an early 6-0 deficit. The Sharks never recovered.
"We thought we had a good game plan," coach Matt Wicks said. "We just got outmatched. We got outmatched speed for speed."
Especially on offense. Eastside stuffed Anclote's vaunted ground game, holding the Sharks to minus-19 yards, including five sacks. Anclote had never been held below 70 rushing yards this season and had been shut out only once, against Pasco.
The Sharks had almost as many penalties (three) as positive plays (four) in the first quarter and didn't get a first down until only five minutes remained in the half.
"We just couldn't get anything going on offense," Wicks said.
Barrett - Tampa Bay's third-leading rusher with more than 1,400 yards - was bottled up, especially after starting lineman Alex Smith went down with a leg injury. Barrett finished with 25 yards on 20 attempts.
"They just got us in the backfield from open gaps," Barrett said.
Anclote's defense made stops in spurts, including two sacks from linebacker Dimitri Grivas, but Eastside clicked with a handful of big plays from Jackson. The 5-foot-11 senior kept an option for a 38-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter and walked into the end zone from 12 yards out in the third.
Jackson, who passed for 75 yards and rushed for 83, also intercepted two passes and took the final one for a 30-yard score in the third quarter.
"He's a lot faster in person than he was on film," Wicks said.
Anclote tried to rally. The Sharks drove inside the Eastside 4 late in the first half but were stuffed four times and turned the ball over on downs.
Quarterback John Forgione passed for 179 yards, including 24 on a diving catch by junior wide receiver Tymere Carter. But four interceptions, including three in the third quarter, squashed any comeback hopes.
After the final buzzer sounded on the Sharks' worst loss of the season, Wicks reminded his team of its unlikely journey, from a winless season in 2009 and an 0-4 start this year to a tiebreaker victory and the playoffs.
Barrett admitted he didn't even think the postseason was possible after last year, but the standout junior is ready to return next fall.
"If we keep working at it how we did this year and keep progressing, we should be back here next year in the same position," Barrett said.
But, he hopes, with a different result.