At least they know where they stand.
The Zephyrhills Bulldogs are a very good football team, as evidenced by their first three games — winning by a combined score of 146-44.
But they’re clearly not the class of their district after taking a 45-10 loss at home to defending Class 5A-District 6 champion South Sumter. And according to Head Coach Reggie Roberts, the Bulldogs definitely are not the kind of team that can hurt themselves and expect to beat a school of that caliber.
“We knew that we can’t make mistakes with that team and survive, and we did that,” he said.
The Raiders had a strong start against Zephyrhills, building an early 21-point lead. But the Bulldogs fought back, scoring a touchdown and getting in position to score another. Instead, they settled for a field goal, later gave up the ball on a muffed punt, and allowed another touchdown before halftime.
That took them from a more manageable 21-14 or 21-10 halftime deficit, to instead trailing 28-10 at the break — a big blow in a game marked by poor weather.
“That’s tough to do against a very good football team,” Roberts said. “I think that was a turning point.”
While it’s tough to lose a district game, it’s also disappointing to see some players not bring their best to such an important contest, Roberts said. Yet a few did answer the call and gave their best in difficult conditions. Players like offensive linemen Austin Larkin and Jonah Thomas caught the coach’s eye for their effort the entire game, and senior Jaylen Pickett was singled out for his mental and physical toughness, and efforts to motivate the team.
“I saw him all game trying to get the guys up,” Roberts said of Pickett. “He’s a competitor.”
While bouncing back after a tough loss isn’t easy, Roberts isn’t giving the team any other option. Zephyrhills had some good practices following the loss, and are working to get back to the dominant play they displayed earlier in the year. And with the rest of their district games coming up in consecutive weeks, there’s no room for error — and not much time to right the ship.
“We have to roll from here on out,” Roberts said. “We can’t lose anymore.”
The Bulldogs also can’t dwell on the loss. They have to have a short memory and focus on the opponents in front of them, Roberts said.
And if the team finds their early-season form and gets back to their winning ways, the coach doesn’t rule out a rematch with the Raiders down the road. It will take a consistent, strong effort, fewer mistakes, and a winning streak, but the postseason and another shot at South Sumter is possible.
“That’s the moral of the story here. We have to play hard,” Roberts said. “That’s a good football team. If we continue to win and don’t lose again, we’ll see them again.”
Published October 1, 2014
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