ZEPHYRHILLS — When longtime coach Tom Fisher paced the sidelines at Bulldog Stadium, his teams didn’t always have the talent or depth to compete with the best in Pasco County.
Usually “doing more with less”, Fisher led Zephyrhills to winning records in 13 of his 20 seasons at the helm. With the just two playoff victories in school history, it would be fair to say that Fisher left Zephyrhills in 2008 as the program’s patriarch.
When former player Reggie Roberts took over as coach in 2010, he made it clear he wanted to get the Bulldogs back into the postseason for the first time since 2006. Posting winning records in each of the last two seasons, Zephyrhills fell just short of the playoffs, but gained valuable insight.
“We’ve got a lot of players that have been with us the last two years and they remember what it’s like to be sitting at home during the playoffs. I didn’t like that feeling and neither did they,” Roberts said. “Our guys have put in a lot of work and have come a long way since the end of last season.”
Now, Zephyrhills is 6-1 and controls its own playoff destiny. At 3-1 record in the tough Class 5A-District 6), the Bulldogs need to win tonight at 7 hosting Brooksville Hernando (2-5, 2-2) and next week hosting 9-Mile War rival Pasco (4-3, 2-2) to be the district runner-up.
Averaging 36.8 points per game and coming off of a 70-point performance against Brooksville Central last Thursday, the Bulldogs welcome back starting quarterback, Ty Tanner (collarbone) to go along with athletes Jaylen Pickett and Devon Brockington.
“It’s all coming together for us right now,” Robert said. “We’ve corrected some of the issues that plagued us earlier in the year, like putting the ball on the ground, so I feel pretty confident at this stage of the season. To beat Hernando, we need to play solid from start to finish. We’ve had some slow starts this season, but we need a fast start.”
If Zephyrhills beats Brooksville Hernando (and Pasco beats 0-7 Brooksville Central), it would set up the most meaningful edition of the 9-Mile war in recent history, as the winner would be the Class 5A-District 6 runner-up. Pasco County’s most-storied rivalry would have playoff implications for the first time since 2006 when Zephyrhills beat Pasco to clinch the 3A-District 8 title and knock the Pirates out of the playoff.
Roberts, who went 4-0 vs. the Pirates as a player (1986-1989), knows what it takes to beat one’s rivals.
“When I played here, Pasco got all of the attention and all of the press because they had the most athletes,” he said. “We beat them by pulling together as a team, as a family, to get the job done. That’s the Bulldog way. We did that when I played here (under Fisher) and our current players are taking that mentality to heart as well. … In rivalry games it usually comes down to who wants it more and I am betting on us. We’re hungry.”
But Roberts also knows he can’t look ahead to the 9-Mile War, because, “the Pasco game means nothing if we lose this week” and that the real task at hand is the Leopards.
“We aren’t looking ahead,” he added. “We know that if we lose against Hernando, then we’ll be home on Thanksgiving — and we don’t want that.”
PREDICTION: All seven correspondents who cover Pasco County football, Mike Camunas, Andy Villamarzo, Bart O’Connell, Kyle LoJacono, Kenny Sanders, Steve Campbell and Chris Errington pick Zephyrhills to win.
Correspondent Kenny Sanders can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @kasander5.