HUDSON - D.J. Clower knew the Cobra Stadium crowd was loud, but he couldn't hear them. He stepped to the line for Pasco's final offensive play, a play that would decide the Pirates' fate in their district opener against Hudson.
"You know you're in the zone when that happens," Clower said of the eerie silence any focused football player experiences in a crucial moment.
The play, a corner or out route designed for sure-handed wide receiver Chaise Dunn, worked to perfection. A crisp throw by Clower and an easy catch and tip-toe into the end zone by Dunn with 10.9 seconds left. It completed a come-from-behind, 17-15 win for the Pirates (4-0, 1-0 Class 3A, District 8).
The final minutes of the fourth quarter showcased the complete range of emotions for a football player, especially within Clower.
He had to leave the game briefly on the preceding drive with a leg injury, and on his first play back, fumbled the snap which was recovered by Hudson's Randy Jonas with 2:33 left and the Cobras leading 15-10. It was Pasco's seventh fumble and second turnover.
"I thought it was over, then I realized we had all our timeouts, and we had a chance to stop them," Clower said.
The Pirates' defense did its part, forcing a three-and-out, and Hudson punted to their own 45 to set up the scoring drive.
Cool and calm, Clower went to work, scrambling for a short gain before hitting Dunn over the middle for a 34-yard pass, down to the Hudson 6. On the next two plays, Jamall Haynes ran up the middle for 2 yards and Josh Johnson lost 2 trying to get to the sideline, sapping most of the remaining time off the clock.
Clower spiked the ball to make it fourth down, and setting up a situation he had never been in as a football player - a win-or-lose, do-or-die play where his team needed a touchdown. And Clower-to-Dunn delivered another clutch win for the Pirates, following last week's one-point win against Wesley Chapel.
"When we played Wesley Chapel, it was a tough game. And Coach [Tom McHugh] always preaches to us resiliency - championship teams have resiliency," Dunn said. "They just gave us the ball back, now it's our turn to do our job."
Hudson (0-3, 0-1) also did the job after trailing by 10 at the half and refusing to quit, putting together back-to-back, 11-play touchdown drives to wrestle the lead away from Pasco.
Zack Wynn found Dylan Buono for the first score, a 28-yard pass, before Coach Mark Nash unveiled what his staff called the "jumbo" formation - a shotgun, power-I set with two large offensive linemen blocking for a runningback (Dylan Luke and Justin Busiere) who takes a direct snap.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Luke scored from 12-yards out, and Frank Serrano made an incredible left-handed 2-point conversion shovel pass to Buono of a botched extra point snap to give Hudson a 15-10 lead, which came 10.9 seconds from holding up.
"We played great on defense in the first half, and I got out-coached in the second half," McHugh said, praising Hudson's comeback. "It's a wake-up call. I just hope that we can go back to work hard and try to strive to do things right, cut out the mistakes. I'm happy that the team won and I kind of think they deserve it, though Coach Nash did a great job."
Hudson ran for 77 yards in the second half after losing 3 yards on 10 first-half carries. They also held the dynamic Josh Johnson to negative yardage in the second half after he gained more than 100 in the first two quarters.
Pasco now has a huge early advantage on the district foe that finished runner-up last year.
"We did an excellent job preparing for this game," Hudson coach Mark Nash said. "Ten seconds, just 10 seconds short. I don't know what else to say."
Pasco Survives Another Close Call
Correspondent Bart O'Connell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.