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Pasco Tribune

Zephyrhills Defense Earns Respect

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Published:   |   Updated: March 26, 2013 at 11:31 PM

WESLEY CHAPEL - Here's a suggestion. Members of the Zephyrhills offense who do not play defense, find a defensive player, ask him what his favorite food is - and buy it.

Just a suggestion.

It's only fair, considering how the Bulldogs defense led them to a come-from-behind 24-17 victory Friday night against Wesley Chapel.

On the first offensive series of the game, the Wildcats appeared to be on the move for an early advantage. On second-and-10, Wesley Chapel quarterback Greg Jenkins dissected the Bulldogs for a 12-yard gain. Keenan Reynolds collected 3 yards on the next play.

But on that fourth play, Jenkins, first scrambling to his right and then cutting back to the left, absorbed one of the biggest hits - literally and figuratively - of the night.

Zephyrhills defender Tyler Smith blasted the senior quarterback, stopping him in his tracks and forcing him over.

If the immediate force and look of the hit didn't say it, then sound of it should have - Jenkins was hurt, suffering a separated right shoulder.

Jenkins labored back to the huddle and took his final snap, running to the right and fumbling following a hit.

The impact of that loss wasn't immediate, though. Wesley Chapel, on its ensuing possession, forced the ball down the field with backup quarterback C.J. West at the helm. With six consecutive runs, the 59-yard drive ended with Hunter Joyer flying past and through defenders for an 11-yard score.

Zephyrhills' follow-up drive came to a halt when Wesley Chapel's Lionel Rayford, batted a Tyler Guy pass, fell backward and made a diving interception at the Wildcats 20.

Still no Jenkins and still no answer for Zephyrhills against the Wesley Chapel run. On the 14th play of the drive, the Wildcats offensive line collapsed the Bulldogs defensive front, allowing Reynolds to run in from 2 yards out.

'To tell you the truth, I don't think the loss of Jenkins even fazed them,' Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher said. 'The kid that came in for him did a good job, and they kept moving the ball even though Jenkins wasn't in there. I guess we just needed to wake up and realize we could win the ballgame if we wanted it.'

Wednesday afternoon, Jenkins knew the Bulldogs would put eight players in the box and try to keep him at bay. He welcomed that challenge and said he would just torch the Bulldogs defenders with his arm.

They did just that, not to stop Jenkins, but to quell the Wildcats' dominant running game. It was a second-quarter adjustment that paid dividends.

Zephyrhills defenders Alex Sampson, Smith and Lance Hayes each intercepted West. Sampson returned his interception 58 yards for a touchdown, cutting into the Wesley Chapel advantage, 14-10.

That defensive pressure limited the Wildcats to four second-half first downs, compared to 10 in the first half, and three second-half points.

'They know you're going to do that, so they start sending seven, eight guys into the gaps and you're going to have trouble,' Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare said of the Zephyrhills defense.

Zephyrhills' first offensive touchdown came with 2:50 left in the third quarter, when Paniagua scored from 8 yards out - a play set up by Smith's interception. It took 5:45 for the Bulldogs to earn its second offensive touchdown, a 1-yard Guy run. Chris Henry, held to 37 rushing yards, ran in the 2-point conversion for the 24-17 lead.

At the end of the game, Sampson was asked if his offense respected the defense following its performance in the final three quarters Friday in light of Week 3's late collapse against Land O' Lakes. Sampson smiled with a sense of relief and pride and offered: 'Yeah. Most definitely.'

Just a suggestion: there's well over a dozen places less than a mile from campus. So, what's your favorite meal?

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