By Kyle LoJacono
It isn’t a state championship, but the Pasco football team brought the USF Sling and Shoot crown home to Dade City by defeating Gaither 27-12 on July 24.
The Pirates have played in the event every year since coach Tom McHugh took over the program four seasons ago, but this is the first time the east Pasco County squad has claimed the title.
“I was really surprised,” said senior Trey Dudley-Giles. “We come from a small county, and to come out and win something big like that was a surprise. This really gives us a lot of hope that we can win against anyone.”
Pasco and Land O’ Lakes were the only county teams in the event, but the Pirates didn’t let the size disparity intimidate them.
“You play the cards you’re dealt,” McHugh said. “We have about 1,000 kids at Pasco and we had to play schools with 3,000. Plant had two teams because they have so many players and can only have 40 on a team. We brought our 17 players, and I’ll take those 17 over anyone. It’s like that movie 300. I’ll take my 17.”
The championship comes less than two months after the Pirates struggled to move the ball in the squad’s spring game; a 14-7 win against Zephyrhills.
“There were a lot of guys who didn’t get to play in the spring game because they were sick or injured,” McHugh said.
Dudley-Giles missed most of the spring season with mononucleosis, junior David Emmanuel had a pulled hamstring and junior Demerius Wilson had an ankle injury.
“We had a lot of question marks after the spring game,” McHugh said. “In the spring game we had 10 passes and eight drops and two catches. It wasn’t like Jacob (Guy) was throwing the ball of the mark. We needed to come together as a quarterback and receiving core so that during the season Jacob has confidence in his guys. That was really what we were looking to do this summer and we have at least eight playmakers we can go to at any time.”
McHugh said the drops were most likely due to inexperience.
“Jacob’s a Division I quarterback and throws the ball hard,” McHugh said. “It’s not the same as catching a slow pass. Some of those passes he made, I probably would have gotten out of the way of. It took some time for the young guys to get used to that speed.”
Guy and his playmakers connected for three touchdowns in the Sling and Shoot finals, including scoring passes of 12, 17 and 20 yards.
“We have a lot of confidence now,” Guy said. “We have some new guys at receiver, so they needed some time to get used to varsity speed. There’s a big jump between junior varsity and varsity football. They reacted well after the spring game. There were some really good teams in the Sling and Shoot. There’s a lot of trust between everyone right now.”
Guy was especially impressed with how Emmanuel took to playing wide receiver.
“I don’t think David’s ever played out wide before and he really stepped up and played well,” Guy said. “That’s a 1,000-yard running back who played wide receiver because we thought we could do some things with him there.”
Guy also gave credit to the coaching staff and defense.
“Our offensive coordinator had some really good plays for us to run at the right times,” Guy said. “Our defense was great too. It looked like they got better every game we played. That’s where I think we showed the most improvement.”
The Pirates outlasted 50 other teams, pushing through the brutal summer heat.
“We played with a lot of intensity and heart,” Dudley-Giles said. “We never got to the point where we were yelling at each other or anything. We had a great family atmosphere and it helped us get through.”
McHugh was very pleased with the squad’s accomplishment, but had cautious optimism about what it means for the fall season.
“It’s not the same as real football,” McHugh said. “We run plays in 7-on-7 we won’t in the fall. We have good athletes and we can play 7-on-7 with anyone. It’s kind of like apples and oranges. If we had to go bang heads with offensive and defensive lines with Armwood we’d have a little more trouble, but skills-wise we can hang with anyone.”
Pasco will play its kickoff classic football game at home against Hernando on Friday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. The Pirates will host Ormond Beach Calvary Christian on Friday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. for their season opener.
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