Sunlake High School coach Bill Browning is pointing to tonight’s game against Pasco as a “great challenge.”
BY MIKE CAMUNAS Tribune correspondent
Published: August 29, 2013
It’s a rematch nearly three years in the making.
This evening at 7:30, two of the county’s most successful high school football teams of the past three seasons, Pasco and Sunlake, are, once again, pitted against each other in a matchup that many have wanted to see. And as the Seahawks host the Pirates, each team kicks off its 2013 season, with high expectations and playoff aspirations.
“We’re looking at this as a great challenge and we’re also looking to improve each week,” the father of Sunlake football, coach Bill Browning, said. “They’re the king of the county because they haven’t lost an in-county game in more than three seasons. We know we’re going to have to make tackles on defense, and we play well defensively, so we want to step up to this great challenge.”
“Our expectations are to practice every day and to get these guys better and live up to our potential,” said Tom McHugh, who is the winningest coach in Pasco football history. “Limitless is the biggest word in the English language, and if (the players) live up to their potential, then it’s limitless, but if they don’t then it’s limited. I believe they know what’s expected of them.”
Both the Pirates and the Seahawks enter new districts, in which each is arguably the favorite to win. Backing these favorites would be that Pasco has not lost in 38 regular-season games and Sunlake is 26-6 in its past three seasons, including two 8-2 seasons, and both times were kept out of the playoffs.
“I don’t think, by any means, this is a rivalry,” Browning said. “People may have wanted to see us play, but we haven’t seen each other in a few years and the last time we played we were still in our nursing stages. We’re both different teams. Things may play out different.”
“That’s a whole new team,” McHugh said. “We haven’t played them in three years. They’ve got a new person at every position.”
Pasco and Sunlake have met four previous times (2007-10), and the Pirates dominated all four games and outscored the Seahawks 149-18. While both teams have one unified goal — starting their seasons on the right foot — each is going about it in different ways.
The Pirates, despite a talented roster with multiple Division I players, are taking it one day at time with McHugh at the helm, taking his “pragmatic” approach.
“Sometimes I’m apprehensive, but it’s because I have to make sure everything is right and everything is taken care of and no one is injured,” McHugh said. “You have to do it day by day, and we’re going to do the best we can do. We always say, we want to do well enough to survive and get an 11th game. That’s why we say 10 plus.”
The Seahawks, on the other hand, are still figuring out positions, including picking a starting quarterback between Esteban LeWallen and Dayton Feiden. They do bring a good running game with Nathan Johnson and a swarming defense led by Ben Wood and Jacob Guzman.
“We need to avoid the inexperience mistakes because we have a lot of first-time starters,” Browning said. “Each time they gain more experience, and we’ve been pleased with a lot of things and just looking to stepping up to the challenges we’ll have this season.”
Even though it’s a rematch worth revisiting, both teams know it’s not one to be taken lightly.
“We’re never going to take another team lightly,” McHugh said. “It’s disrespectful not to think of them as challenging.”
“We’ve certainly been working hard to build what we have here,” Browning said. “It’s going to be tough because we know it’s Pasco University vs. Sunlake High School, but we expect a very good game.”
PREDICTION: All seven correspondents who cover Pasco County football — Mike Camunas, Andy Villamarzo, Bart O’Connell, Kyle LoJacono, Steve Campbell, Kenny Sanders and Chris Errington — pick Pasco to defeat Sunlake.
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.