DADE CITY — A year later, it’s back to the beginning.
Local high school football teams kick off the regular season tonight and two of Pasco County’s top teams meet in a non-district matchup in one of the season’s most anticipated games.
Pasco, with its eyes on revenge, hosts Sunlake at 7:30 at W.F. Edwards Stadium. In 2013, the Seahawks grabbed a 17-6 win against the Pirates, who saw a 45-game regular-season winning streak end.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere — we’ve had that kind of atmosphere before and it’s going to be an exciting place to play,” Sunlake coach Bill Browning said. “Its a brand new year with brand new athletes and all new different scenarios. There’s no use living in the past.”
Pasco coach Tom McHugh agrees, though is quick to remind his players not to get a sense of entitlement, despite the homefield advantage.
“I don’t think we’re uncomfortable being away, but that is why they call it homefield advantage,” said McHugh, who has the all-time most wins (70) at Pasco. “But those who fail to study this year are doomed to repeat (last year). You can’t get entrenched — you need to learn from what you did in the past.”
What the Pirates will look to avoid repeating is turnovers against Sunlake, though their offense, led by Grant Starling, will face a Seahawks defense that lost nine of 11 starters that allowed only 78 points last season. McHugh said he wants to see a better rhythm from his offense.
“I was happy we’re in shape with no cramping, but the offensive line needs to hold blocks,” McHugh said. “The first game out, you don’t know what you don’t know, but guys need to stick to their assignments on defense, too.”
McHugh was satisfied by the team’s 21-0 shutout of impressive and talented Ridgewood team that will contend for the Class 5A-District 5 title, but adds the defense led by Florida-commit Andrew Ivie will “need to tackle better.”
As for Sunlake, which lost 20-9 to Steinbrenner in the preseason, Browning said the team got a “good practice in” and the team is still “a work in progress.” However, the Seahawks passed more than usual in a Browning offense, which’ll still hand off to senior back Nathan Johnson (1,504 yards, 16 TDs) plenty.
“You have to rectify that sort of stuff, but there’s always going to be growing pains when you graduate that many seniors (20),” Browning said. “We’ll go over the tape, put in the work and make a plan for Pasco. Obviously, (Pasco) has a lot of talent, some Division I kids, but we love that challenge — to take on that huge challenge we embrace.
“Steinbrenner probably had their best team ever, but we got some good work in against them and we’re still looking for the puzzle pieces that fit. We’ll be fine.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.