New district, same results for Pasco football
TRINITY - Back in January, Tom McHugh's reaction fell in line with just about everyone else's when the Florida High School Athletic Association released its finalized football reclassification list. "Oh boy," McHugh admitted minutes after being soaked by the contents of an oversized water bucket. That revelation was made easier Friday night after his team knocked off Mitchell, 17-3, for the Class 3A-District 7 title. Mitchell entered as Pasco County's lone remaining undefeated team. McHugh's initial reaction was founded in the fact two of those district mates - Land O' Lakes and Gulf - were fresh off playoff appearances, while others showed potential to be dangerous."And there are seven teams so you have to play seven in a row and it's tough," said McHugh, whose team won its third consecutive district crown with Friday's victory. "You can't falter, you can't stumble. It's really tough to keep high school athletes going for that length of time without going without a break." Pasco's new district includes first-year Anclote, Gulf, Land O' Lakes, Mitchell, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills. Here's the reason for McHugh's concern: Last season, Land O' Lakes went 8-3, collecting its 13th overall district title and made its 12th consecutive playoff appearance. Then there's Gulf, the 2008 Class 3A-District 8 runner-up to Pasco. They went 10-2, reaching the second round of the playoffs. Last season, Mitchell went 5-5 in a tough district featuring Gaither and Wharton. Wesley Chapel, in the same district, finished 4-6. Zephyrhills, a team that is always a tough opponent, went 4-6. Meanwhile, Sunlake, although 1-9 in 2008, showed signs of improving. Two weeks ago, Pasco (7-1, 6-0) faced a then undefeated Land O' Lakes team and handed them a 28-16 loss. Friday night, Mitchell came into the contest 8-0 overall and 5-0 in district play. Although the Mustangs had to go to work without 1,100-plus yard rusher Ricky Trinidad, Mitchell coach Brian Wachtel was impressed with his team's response. "These are the games that you live for," Wachtel said. "I told our kids these are the games you want to play in. You want to be in these positions. This is what it's all about. They've done a great job. This year, they've just been building and building and building." The idea of a new district with tough competition was made worse considering the Pirates lost of 22 seniors to graduation. Many of those players started or played key roles in their previous two district titles. "We lost 22 really good football players and we had guys step up," McHugh said. "It's a different district and I knew from the beginning when Mitchell got in here it would be a tough deal. You always know Land O' Lakes is going to be tough and Mitchell is going to be tough. We have some other ones in there now that we have to contend with, too. It's one of those things where we had to train up the younger guys. I'm glad they had the experience of playing with (the 2008 Pasco team) and I think that was a benefit to us tonight." With three consecutive district titles - one for each season McHugh has led the Pirates, the next time someone utters 'Oh boy,' it likely will be in response to what Pasco brings to the table.
Reporter Eddie Daniels can be reached at (813) 259-7066.