By Kyle LoJacono
The Pasco football team defeated Land O’ Lakes for the fifth consecutive season, the longest winning streak in the 36-year rivalry.
The Pirates (2-0) took a 7-6 halftime lead against Land O’ Lakes (1-1), but the Dade City squad put up 32 points in the second half to win 39-6 as the injury depleted Gators seemed to wear down.
“Land O’ Lakes has always been a good team,” said Pasco coach Tom McHugh. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and they’ve always been a very good team.”
The Gators were without five starters to begin the home contest on Sept. 9; four because of injury and defensive back Jordan Michelson was out for off-the-field reasons.
Tight end Kent Taylor broke his left hand in Land O’ Lakes’ kickoff classic against Anclote, and linebacker Shadow Williams broke his left hand against Zephyrhills on Sept. 2. Center John Kranendonk and safety Darin Patmon were also hurt against the Bulldogs, with a cracked sternum and injured knee respectively. The injury bug continued to bite the Gators against Pasco, as wide receiver Ricky Boyles left the game after halftime with a concussion.
Gators coach Brian Wachtel did not use losing six starters as an excuse.
“Pasco’s a good football team,” Wachtel said. “In the second half of the game they made some big plays. Our kids fought hard. I’m so proud of our kids for everything that they did out there tonight, and man it was exciting at half 7-6. We’re just going to have to go back and evaluate the film and move forward.”
The game started promising for the Gators, as they forced a fumble on the Pirates second play from scrimmage, but Land O’ Lakes was unable to come away with any points.
Pasco got on the board first when quarterback Jacob Guy hit running back Janarion Grant for a 61-yard touchdown pass with 10:29 left in the second quarter. The Gators answered with 1:15 left before halftime when quarterback Ryan Bird found wide receiver Nico Watts for a 59-yard strike.
The Pirates came out from halftime on fire, scoring touchdowns on their first four drives to take a commanding 32-6 lead.
“Coach had a good speech at halftime,” said Pasco running back David Emmanuel. “We were a little bit down because it was a very close game. Normally we would be ahead by a mile, but he told us the right things and we came out and did what we had to do.”
Pasco started running the ball more with the 6-foot, 175-pound Emmanuel in the second half to take advantage of the short-handed Gators.
“Our offensive coordinator found a weakness in their line, and we capitalized on it and made big plays,” Emmanuel said.
Emmanuel finished with 221 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Grant had three scores of his own, all receiving.
Emmanuel said of sharing a backfield with Grant, “He’s like my brother. There’s competition between us every game. He normally comes out on top first, but I guess I tied it up in the end tonight.”
Emmanuel had to miss the Pirates’ first regular season game with a shoulder injury, but the junior showed no lingering effects against the Gators.
“David runs the ball hard,” McHugh said. “If you don’t bring everything you have to tackle David, then it doesn’t work.”
Guy finished 14-of-23 for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Trey Dudley-Giles had four catches for 84 yards and added another 28 on kick returns.
The Land O’ Lakes defense did cause some problems for the Pirates, recording six sacks for -29 yards.
Bird went 12-for-23 for 192 yards with one touchdown and an interception. The Gators signal caller added another 40 rushing yards.
The victory increased Pasco’s lead in the all-time series against Land O’ Lakes to 20-16. The Pirates host Wiregrass Ranch on Friday, Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. The Gators have a bye next week, and then host district rival Hernando on Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m.
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