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  1. Sports

Every district game 'must win' now for Zephyrhills

The statistics do not jump off the screen.

Zephyrhills rushes for 185 yards per game, pretty much average for teams across Florida. No one running back has eye-popping stats. Senior Jaylen Pickett leads the team with 404 yards and three touchdowns in five games.

Yet the Bulldogs are 4-1 and have scored at least 45 points in each of those wins. Throw out a 45-10 loss two weeks ago to South Sumter — ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 5A — and Zephyrhills has beaten opponents by an average score of 48-12.

The reason is because the Bulldogs have been able to share the wealth on offense. Aside from Pickett, senior fullback Lorine Parker has pitched in with 162 yards and two touchdowns, sophomore running back Antwione Sims has 125 yards and three touchdowns, and senior quarterback Ty Tanner has 139 yards and a touchdown. Junior Tre'un Everett and senior Tyler Kirby have also contributed.

"This is my best team as far as the rushing attack goes," said Zephyrhills coach Reggie Roberts, who is in his fifth season. "We've got six or seven guys who can carry the ball and get in the end zone. It's not just Jaylen, but Tanner, Kirby, Parker, Sims — all those guys can score."

And so far they have been. The Bulldogs have rushed for 926 yards and thrown for only 202. While Tanner has completed only 10 of 31 passes, five of those have been for touchdowns.

Opposing coaches would be wise to look at South Sumter game film to find out the secret to stopping Zephyrhills.

"For whatever reason, we just didn't play well against South Sumter," Roberts said. "But few teams do well against them."

As good as this season has been so far, the Bulldogs don't want a repeat of last season. That's when they lost to South Sumter, then lost the final district game to Pasco and got aced out of a playoff spot.

Tonight's Class 5A-6 game against Nature Coast should be a tough test. The Sharks are tied with South Sumter at 3-0 in the district. The Bulldogs are 1-1 in the district with four straight 5A-6 games left to play.

Last season, Zephyrhills had no trouble with the Sharks, winning 37-16. But that was last year. Nature Coast (3-2) has rattled off three straight wins and has a top-notch running back in DeShawn Smith (69 carries, 581 yards).

The Bulldogs' defense has not been bothered by offenses this season (except South Sumter, of course). Artonyo Lee (55 total tackles) and Lawrence Everett (46 tackles) have been all over the field to lead a defense that has returned two interceptions for a touchdown and recovered seven fumbles.

Roberts knows there can be no letdown now that the Bulldogs are in the heart of district play.

"Every one of them is must win at this point," Roberts said. "We need to play good football from here on out. We didn't play very well against South Sumter so that's put us in a hole. Nature Coast is a very good team that runs the ball well. It's a much different team than we faced last year. They have more athletes this year."

Rodney Page can be reached at page@tampabay.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.

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