Eight weeks ago, the Pasco football team was delivered a message. One that was force-fed and not readily accepted.
It came in the wake of an 18-17 loss to Nature Coast in October at W.F. Edwards Stadium. It was the first and only loss on the Pasco ledger.
After dominating Gulf, 50-0, during Friday night's Class 3A-Region 2 semifinal, it appears that lesson has taken hold.
"I think a lot of times when you have a lot of success when you're young, you think that's just something owed to you," said Pirates coach Tom McHugh. "I think that loss kind of snapped a knot in their neck that they don't owe us anything. I can tell them they're not owed anything 100,000 times and they have to realize it for themselves.
"As a young man, you need to realize what the coach is telling you is true and they refocused and did what they had to do. I'm real proud of them."
Next week, the Pirates will host Citra North Marion in the Class 3A-Region 2 final.
Friday night, instead of feeling owed or overconfidence considering the Pirates won the regular-season matchup 21-20, Pasco took what it wanted.
Defensively, they swarmed Buccaneers backup quarterback Jacob Jackson. The sophomore was in for starter Madison Burr, who injured his left leg during Gulf's first-round playoff game against St. Cloud.
The Pirates defense treated record-setting running back Adrian Golden the same way. Golden, who entered the game having set the Pasco County record for rushing yards in a season (2,460), was held to 49 yards on 21 carries.
Of Gulf's 12 possessions, two ended on fumbles, one by interception, one by sack and another by safety.
Following a slow start of their own, the Pirates (11-1) unleashed on Gulf (10-2), leaving nothing to chance. Pasco scored on seven of its final nine possessions - all touchdowns. They put up a season-high 50 points as well as 295 yards of offense compared to Gulf's 52. Pasco receiver Chaise Dunn caught three (46, 4, 5 yards) of his team's seven touchdowns.
Lost in the mix was the fact Pasco used two running backs to move its offense forward. Jamall Haynes, the normal workhorse, collected 69 yards and one score on 17 carries. Jamaal Sampson, who has played on defense all season, put up 81 yards on 10 carries. He too reached the end zone for the Pirates.
"Jamaal played defense all year and we put him in and let him run the ball and it's just one of those things that maybe they didn't expect," McHugh said. "If you have two people who can run the ball equally as well or close to equally as well, I think it's a pretty good ploy."
At some point during a blowout, one has to get a sense of when the opposing team has had enough and frustration has begun to set in. Pasco receiver/defensive back Josh Johnson knew early on.
"From the get-go, when it was 0-0 in the first quarter," said Johnson, who collected an acrobatic interception, caught a touchdown pass and threw for a score. "I was saying, 'Hey, we just have to pick it up,' and I saw Golden wasn't running as hard as he usually does. He was real nice. He was just talking to me and stuff. So I was like, hey man, we just have to jump on them. If we jump on them then we have. They ain't going to come back."
Offensively, Johnson touched the ball only four times, but his role away from the ball was just as important. Several times Johnson would search out defenders, delivering crushing blows. It was a role he relished.
"In practice, I told Coach I don't care if I don't get one catch the whole game," Johnson said. "As long as I can hit somebody, I'm fine."
Despite the dreadful way the season ended for Gulf, Bucs coach Jay Fulmer said his team has nothing to hang its head over.
"The thing about it is, we set school records in several areas this year - rushing, most wins ever in a season, first playoff win in a season," Fulmer said. "I really don't think we have anything to be ashamed of. This score's embarrassing, but we're not going to worry about it. We're all juniors and sophomores, you know. We're losing some good seniors, but we're going to regroup and we're going to be fine.
"Our kids know how to win and they're going to bounce back from this. This is not going to be something we hang our head about."