In high school football, every game is meaningful. If it involves two good teams, it’s a little more important. And if the playoffs are on the line, that ups the ante.
But if it’s a rivalry game, it has the makings of something really special.
Friday’s match up featuring the 5-3 Pasco Pirates and 7-1 Zephyrhills Bulldogs qualifies as all of the above.
When Pasco visits Zephyrhills, the game will feature two strong teams in the top half of 5A-District 6 in terms of points scored and points allowed. And while South Sumter sits atop the standings in both district and overall play (already clinching the top spot in the district), the Pirates and Bulldogs are battling for second place and the trip to the playoffs that goes with it.
The winner of this game earns that spot, while the loser has to accept defeat and will be sent home at the hand of their rival.
While making the playoffs is a goal for every team, Zephyrhills is looking to end a long post-season drought. The Bulldogs haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, with just two winning seasons in that span (both occurring since Head Coach Reggie Roberts took over in 2010).
Pasco, on the other hand, is used to post-season appearances. During the years that Zephyrhills has been kept out the playoffs, Pasco has earned six district championships and three undefeated regular seasons.
Now, with one game determining who makes the playoffs, Zephyrhills will either break their streak of futility, or Pasco will continue its run of success. With a 4-1 district record, Zephyrhills’ Roberts is excited about his team’s prospects.
“We’re a better football team than we have been in the past,” Roberts explained. “The last two years, we tasted a little bit of the possibility of the playoffs, and these kids really want to get there. And they’re playing like that right now. I’ve got a bunch of motivated kids on my hands.”
Two of those motivated kids are sure to be the focal points of Zephyrhills’ offense, and the biggest concerns for Pasco’s defense. Senior Devon Brockington is not only one of the rushing threats in the Bulldogs’ run-first scheme, but he’s also the top target when they throw the ball. But if the Pirates find a way to contain him, they’ll still have to contend with Jaylen Pickett, a senior who serves as the lead back and workhorse when Zephyrhills does their damage on the ground.
There’s no question the Bulldogs have had a good year, as evidenced by Roberts being named Coach of the Year by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association for District 10. But Roberts, who attended Zephyrhills in his playing days, still has some unfinished business with Pasco. As a linebacker and tight end, his Bulldogs teams were undefeated against their rival, but it’s been a different story as a coach: In three previous opportunities, he has yet to win when facing the Pirates.
And while the game is important for reasons that go beyond his personal history with the team, he’s aware of the disparity in records as a player and coach.
Roberts and the Bulldogs are also aware of the rivalry aspect of playing Pasco. Whatever his coaching staff designs in preparation for the contest, manufacturing motivation and excitement among the players won’t be necessary.
“That’s our rival. The kids always get up for that football game,” Roberts said. “It’s always a good match up; a good rivalry. They’re going to be ready to play. Now you put the district on top of that, and the possibility of the playoffs on top of that? Yeah, it’s not going to be hard to get up for this football game.”