ZEPHYRHILLS — Pasco’s streaks are still alive.
In a do-or-die game for both teams in the 56th meeting of the storied 9-Mile War, Pasco and Zephyrhills battled to the end.
And the Pirates were victorious again, defeating their longtime rival 24-16 and advancing to the Class 5A region quarterfinal in front of a large, boisterous crowd at Bulldog Stadium.
“A lot of people wrote us off,” said Pasco coach Tom McHugh, whose streak of guiding the Pirates to the playoffs has reached seven-consecutive seasons.
“We faced a lot of adversity this year, but everyone stepped up to get back here.”
Pasco (6-3, 4-2) now holds a 39-17 edge in the all-time series with Zephyrhills (7-2, 4-2). The Pirates extended their streak to six straight wins over the Bulldogs.
Pasco, the Class 5A-District 6 runner-up, will travel to Citra North Marion on Nov. 15 for the first round of the playoffs.
With the loss on Friday, Zephyrhills failed in its bid to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“It hurts — I feel for the kids, the community, my coaches, the fans — anyone who was rooting for us,” Bulldogs coach and alum Reggie Roberts said, holding back tears. “We didn’t accomplish our goal — make the playoffs. We’re still hungry. We’re still on a mission now.”
Pasco grabbed the lead in the first quarter, as Lane Stancil recovered a fumbled punt attempt in the Bulldogs’ end zone, but Zephyrhills countered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Jaylen Pickett.
Pasco grabbed a 14-7 halftime lead after a 52-yard touchdown catch by Nate Craig, then widened the lead to 17-7 on a 37-yard field goal by Jonathan Coats in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs rallied, scoring nine consecutive points, including a 7-yard run by Antwione Sims.
But then Pasco turned to Malik Johns, who rushed 25 times for 135 yards, including a 61-yard run that put the Pirates ahead for good.
Pasco 7 7 3 7 — 24
Z-hills 7 0 9 0 — 16
P — Stancil fumble recovery
Z — Pickett 2 run (Gleaton kick)
P — Craig 52 pass from Starling (Coats kick)
P — FG Coats 37
Z — Sims 7 run (Gleaton kick)
Z — Safety
P — Johns 61 run (Coats kick)