The Pasco High football team might finally, sort of, maybe, you know, be the underdog.
"Evidently, we are," said Tom McHugh, who is coaching in his third region final in six seasons. "I feel the same way I feel every week."
The Pirates (12-0) are hitting the road for the first time since playing at Fivay on Oct. 19, and tonight at 7:30 at Jack Peters Field hosted by Robinson (11-1), they'll, perhaps, be the underdog after winning their first two playoff games by a combined score of 86-10.
"Yeah, of course, I'm going to say we're the underdog," said Janarion Grant, who has a team-high 19 touchdowns. "We're going into Tampa and playing Robinson, which is a pretty good team, so there's that, but, like always, we think nothing of it. We're used to feeling this way."
Underdog or not, the Knights will be the toughest opponent Pasco has seen, quite possibly since last season's state semifinal run. Led by quarterback Zain Gilmore and running back Martin Ruiz, Robinson has also been deemed the team of destiny — a team that can't lose because it's playing for coach Mike DePue, who retires at season's end.
"I guess we better just cancel the charter buses and not go," McHugh said, jokingly. "If it's destiny, there's nothing we can do, right?"
Pasco has played superbly on defense, including five interceptions against Gainesville Eastside last week and a combined eight sacks by defensive lineman Morgan Flournory and Florida commit Joey Ivie. Those two will have a battle on the line, facing a pair of USF commits in Conner Rafferty and Bruce Hector, who used to play at Gulf.
"We have a formation to counter whatever they run at us, and we know they're going to run at us," said Flournory, who has a county-record 22.5 sacks this season. "It should be fun to go against big guys, but they should be slower, so it might be easier to get past them. I'm more used to the shorter, faster (offensive lineman).
"I'm just going to try to push them around."
"They're big, but that's not going to stop us," Grant said. "They're going to have to do more than be big to beat us."
Pasco might also be considered the underdog because of its "easy" schedule, yet Robinson's could be considered easy, too. The Knights had five wins over sub-.500 teams, including 0-10 Lennard and 2-8 Middleton, but in games against Jefferson (6-2), Jesuit (7-3), Dunedin (6-4) and Lakewood (10-2), won by a combined 137-39.
Robinson's lone loss was 26-24 to Plant.
"I think we might actually feel like the underdog now because we have to go to Hillsborough County and they have just as good a fan base as us," Flournory said. "I think it's going to be a tough but good game."
"It's tough, but we're relaxed about it," Grant added. "We come out here and practice and practice, and once we get on the bus and take that long road trip up there, that gives us time to think about what we need to do to come out with a W."
No matter what, McHugh will embrace the underdog role, as he always does.
"We're just going to go and do what we do," McHugh said. "Like we do every week."