BROOKSVILLE - Don't look now, but the Pasco Pirates are alive and well, thank you.
Just when it appeared like the Pirates may be pushed off the playoff cliff, the Dade City crew responded by spoiling Hernando High's Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony proceedings.
The Class of 2013 inductees Earl Deen, Tim Sims, Mike Walker, Dee Brown, Phillip Jones, Grover Ellis, Monica Hysell-Lovett and Chrissy Hartley-Dushane watched the Leopard offense, which utilized three quarterbacks, fail to penetrate past the Pirates' 26-yard line.
Two weapons, including one for each team - Hernando senior Ra'Shaad Hart and Pasco sophomore Nate Craig - both played despite injuries. Each made cameo appearances as Craig snared two passes for 17 yards and rushed once for zero yards while Hart rushed three times in the game's waning moments for one yard.
The Pirates (4-3 overall, 2-2 Class 5A, District 6) staved off elimination in the 5A-6 race by extending its regular-season series hex over the Hernando Leopards (2-5 overall, 2-2 5A-6) to 10 wins in a row - all since 1999 - 7-0.
The Pirates' school-record six-year playoff run remained alive behind 173 total yards.
In a game featuring 15 punts, Pirate senior halfback Malik Jones capped an eight-play, 44-drive with a four-yard touchdown run with 11:08 left in the second quarter.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Johns, who arrived as Pasco's leading rusher with 48 carries for 465 yards, served as battering ram behind a game-high 27 attempts for 101 yards.
In the only scoring drive of the night, Johns carried four times for 16 yards before notching his team-leading 14th touchdown.
Placekicker Johnathan Coats, who arrived 9-of-10 in point-after boots, followed with the successful conversion, 7-0.
In the Pirates' only other scoring attempt, Coats misfired on a 34-yard field goal with 7:42 left in the game.
Ironically, though the Pirates (18 turnovers) and Leopards (19 turnovers) had combined for 37 turnovers through six games, both teams protected the ball as neither team lost a fumble or was intercepted.
The Pirate defense posted its second shutout of the season. In the process, Pasco handed the hosts their first whitewash in 64 games - or since Oct. 16, 2008's 21-0 loss at Springstead's Booster Stadium.
Moreover, the Leopards hadn't been shutout at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium spanning 137 games - or since the Crystal River Pirates spanked HHS on Oct. 6, 2000, 21-0.
All told the HHS offense, which was handcuffed to 31 net yards on 19 plays in the first half, managed a season-low 63 net yards on 35 snaps (1.8 yards per play), forcing a game-high eight punts.
HHS' starting junior quarterback Tyler Kline deserved a better fate. Kline finished a dismal 2-of-14 passing for 16 yards. His receivers didn't help, dropping six passes.
Leopard senior linebacker/punter Justin Roberts kept flipping the field position battle with eight punts for a 36.4 average, including a pair which pinned the Pirates inside at their own 6- and 1-yard lines.
The narrow setback left the Hernando locker room hushed, leaving last year's 21-7 Kickoff Classic win over the Pirates as a distant memory.
"Our defense gave up seven points. Seven points," defended second-year HHS skipper Dwayne Mobley. "And we didn't have one turnover. Those are the games you've got to win.
"We've got to work harder on the offensive side of the ball," stressed Mobley "Tonight, we'd have one guy miss a block, another guy miss an assignment, another guy not hold on to a pass - those little things all add up."
On the state of the program, "We're not going to make any excuses," he said. "Our guys didn't quit, not one bit. There's no reason to make excuses.
"Next week against Zephyrhills starts right now," added Mobley. "We've got to come back and regroup. Pasco didn't do anything we weren't prepared for. Preparation for Zephyrhills begins tonight."
From a quarterback's prospective, "Our guys just couldn't hold on to some passes," explained the 16-year-old Kline. "It (the loss) hurts real bad. This was an important game, one that pretty much said whether we'd make the playoffs or not. Now, we've got to win the rest. Next week's game at Zephyrhills is a must game for us."
The 17-year-old Roberts, who kept the Pirates at bay with his punting, said, "It's a real tough loss, not just for the playoffs, but for pride. It's tough right now. We've got some guys pumping blood and some others pumping Kool-Aid."
On the game's difference, "I thought we were flat," described Roberts. "This is kind of the way we played against Weeki Wachee. We played at Pasco's level tonight; we let them hang around.
"I still have dreams of making the playoffs and doing some damage; that all starts with Zephyrhills. Now that game is huge."
"This one hurts because it's our second district loss," chimed in the 17-year-old Brian Duncan. "Now, we've got to show up and play even harder next week. Tonight wasn't because of a lack of effort. Our guys all played hard. Pasco is a good team, but they're beatable."
"We worked our tails off in practice leading up to this game," declared offensive tackle Darren Bright. "It hurts a lot because we worked so hard and didn't get our payday tonight."
Pasco 7, Hernando 0
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
PAS 0 7 0 0 --7
HER 0 0 0 0 --0
PAS - Johns 4 run (Coats kick).
First Downs 13 4
Atts./Rushing Yds. 48-150 21-47
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 5-7-0 2-14-0
Passing Yds. 23 16
Total Offense 55-173 35-63
Fumbles/Lost 2-0 0-0
Return Yards 2-18 3-25
Punts/Avg. 7-38.4 8-36.4
Penalties 2-20 6-59