An early miscue during a punt in the wrong end zone proved to be fatal for the Zephyrhills Bulldogs, as they miss the playoffs once again at the hands of their longtime rival, 24-16.
Both the Bulldogs and the Pasco Pirates needed a win Friday to secure a spot in the playoffs. And record-wise, Zephyrhills seemed to be in a driver seat at 7-1, plus had home-field advantage. But the Pirates came ready to play, especially senior wide receiver Malik Johns, who ran 157 yards — including a 62-yard run late in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory.
The Bulldogs had a rough start in their second drive, going three-and-out pinned inside their own 10-yard line. The snap for the punt went sailing over the kicker’s head, allowing the Pirates to recover in the end zone, giving them an early 7-0 lead.
The Pirates would never give up the lead, although Zephyrhills came close late in the third quarter when freshman running back Antwione Sims ran eight yards to bring the Bulldogs to within a field goal, 17-14.
Two minutes later, after the Bulldogs held the Pirates to a three-and-out, Pasco had its own punt miscue, resulting in a safety for Zephyrhills, a one-point deficit, and possession of the ball with a little more than a quarter remaining.
The Pirates defense, however, held strong, stopping four drives and limiting the Bulldogs to a net gain of no yards before their final full drive with five minutes remaining, and Pasco up 24-16.
Quarterback Ty Tanner burst for 28 yards on the ground, with junior Jaylen Pickett chipping in 24 more to bring Zephyrhills within sight of the Pirates territory.
But then the Bulldogs turned to their passing game, which had been virtually non-existent for both sides up to that point. And this was no different with a pair of sacks on Tanner and sophomore Tre’un Everett ending Zephyrhills’ last gasps.
Senior Devon Brockington rushed for 89 yards for the Bulldogs in the loss, while Tanner finished with 59 on the ground, and Pickett 48.
Pasco’s only other runner was senior Jaquan Clower, who rushed for 46 yards, in the win.
Zephyrhills finishes its season against Sunlake (8-1) this Friday, while Pasco will take on River Ridge (3-6) on their way to the playoffs.