Down three starters, Eagles extend winning ways to eight in a row, edging Pasco, 10-3

Springstead junior slotback Jaylen Thompson rushed 10 times for a net of 19 yards in Friday night’s 10-3  over 20-time playoff participant Dade City-Pasco. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
GIVING PASCO THE BOOT – Following the hold of Logan Blevens (22), place kicker Springstead senior Max O’ Rourke buried his second field goal of the season – both over 40 yards – in Friday’s eighth straight win over visiting Pasco High, 10-3  Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO


O‘Rourke connects on career-high

6-of-10 passing for 84 yards,

featuring clutch 42-yard TD pass to Alexis


SPRING HILL – Ever heard the adage, anything can happen on Sundays in the NFL?

Well, the notion also applies particularly to the prep ranks, too.

Pasco County can always point to its lone state champion …Pasco High in 1992.

Dade City-Pasco Pirates

The Pirates, one of the county’s most decorated gridiron programs in the North Suncoast with 20 playoff appearances, has hit a low ebb.

The East Pasco County crew entered its first district game of the season – a Class 6A-5 tilt at F.W. Springstead in Spring Hill, seeking to reverse its recent fortunes.

By all accounts, the once-proud Pirates, were a shell of their former selves.

Isn’t this the same program that reached the FHSAA playoffs in a Pasco County record eight straight seasons under former Wesley Chapel softball coach Tom McHugh from 2007-2014?

Wasn’t this the same intimidating crew that ex-Hernando Head Coach Perry Brown guided to the playoffs for four seasons from 1992-95, highlighted by Pasco’s Class 3A State Championship in ‘92 over the forces of tyranny at Tampa-Jesuit?

If it is, the Pirates were attempting to halt its internal hemorrhaging.

Since 2014, Pasco County’s flagship football program, the Pirates have finished 4-6, 1-9, 3-7 and 2-8.

After McHugh resigned, the Pirates landed Jason Stokes.

But he arrived in Dade City with a checkered resume.

Apparently, he had been let go at his last three schools for alleged school recruiting violations.

Regardless of how he got the job, his team entered Booster Stadium attempting to apply the brakes on to the worst losing streak in the Pirates’ history dating back over eight decades since Allen Entz paced the sidelines during the “The Great Depression” at W.F. Edwards Stadium.

Though the Pirates entered 2-3, they played inspired with nothing to lose and with everything to gain.

The Dade City crew, who lost its starting quarterback, junior Devin Jernigan, to an ankle injury late in the scoreless first half.

Jernigan, who finished 5-of-10 passing for 34 yards also rushed three times for eight yards.

Fleet-footed senior Darrion Robinson replaced Jernigan and rushed 10 times for 38 yards.

Trouble was, the Pirates befuddled SHS handing the ball off to seniors Desmin Green (9 carries/55 yards), Ivory Lopey (seven totes/92 yards) or junior Malcolm Gibbs (1 carry/7 yards).

All told, the Pirates out-rushed Springstead, 194-129.

That hadn’t been done since Dunnellon during the lopsided spring football classic.

Pasco missed a chance to open the scoring as Herrera’s 29-yard field on the final play of the first half was kicked so low it ricocheted off a couple helmets.

Zeek Lewis-Baldwin

The keys to victory revolved around a pair of huge third-quarter Pasco turnovers – an interception by first-year junior linebacker Angel Peralta and a fumble recovery by first-year sophomore cornerback Zeek Lewis-Baldwin.

Peralta’s pick on the fourth play of the third quarter led directly to points.

A razor-sharp 42-yard strike from senior Max O’Rourke to senior Anthony Alexis snapped the scoreless proceedings with 9:24 left in the period.

Max O’Rourke

In a mistake-free effort, O’Rourke finished with a season-high 6-of-10 completions for 82 yards, highlighted by his Hernando County-leading third touchdown pass of the season.

Two other passes – one to backup senior tight end Anthony DiGiacomo and junior running back Jordan Smith were flat out drops.

Jordan Smith

Smith’s drop loomed as the game progressed. O’Rourke hit him in stride as he crossed the goal line, but he dropped the ball on fourth down and goal.

O’Rourke stayed with the game plan and followed up with perfect point-after boot. 7-0.

Six snaps later, the 6-foot, 150-pound Green fumbled at the Springstead 38-yard line.

Just as Green was wrapping up a 21-yard burst, he lost the handle and Baldwin recovered.

The hosts went to work piecing together an 11-play scoring effort for what turned into the game clincher.

Two dives by backup fullback Toby Rahman gained zero yards before O’Rourke clicked with his favorite receiver sophomore Adonis “I catch everything” Houston.

The 5-foot-9, 157-pound Houston, who has known for having the best hands on the team snared a season-high three passes for 29 yards including a critical 11-yard gain for first down.

On the night, SHS bested Pasco by one first down, 11-10, Alexis carried five times in seven snaps, to forge his way to the Pasco 19.

The sturdy 5-foot-10, 180-pound Alexis carried 19 times for a game-high 95 yards.

On third down, it appeared Pasco jumped the snap as O’Rourke was tackled in the backfield for a three-yard loss.

But O’Rourke capped the drive by booming a 40-yard field goal – his second long three-pointer of the season with 1:45 remaining in the third quarter, 10-0 Eagles.

Four snaps hence, Pasco was forced into senior Juan Herrera’s 35-yard punt.

Springstead countered with O’Rourke’s 27-yard punt.

From the Pasco 21, the Pirates pieced together its longest drive of the night.

On third down, Lopez snapped off a 37-yard burst to Eagles’ 35.

Seven straight runs followed pushing the ball to the Eagles’ 13-yard line.

On fourth down with 88 seconds remaining, Herrera split the uprights with a 29-yard line, 10-3.

O’Rourke broke off a 24-yard run to the Pasco 25 for Springstead’s 11th and final first down.

As O’Rourke took a knee three times from the victory formation, all Pasco could do was utilize it final three timeouts before the final buzzer.

The win, dating back to the final three games of 2018, extended Springstead’s winning streak to eight games.

Adrian Cabrera

All this as senior middle linebacker Adrian Cabrera (shoulder), senior offensive tackle Scott Lydting (ankle, sore knee) and sophomore cornerback David Burgos (broken ankle) did not play for the hosts.

Scott Lydting

Gannon Lanning, a 6-foot-4, 258-pound reserve lineman, replaced Lydting along the O-line.

Post-game chatter

Alexis, who just missed his third 100-yard rushing effort of the season, heaped praise on O’Rourke.

“Max’s throws were right on the money all night,” explained the 17-year-old Alexis, following his team-leading eighth touchdown of the season in the third quarter.

Anthony Alexis

Asked to describe Pasco, “That’s a great team,” replied Alexis. “They played a great game. Give them credit.

On what Alexis took away from improving to 5-0 overall and opening district play at 1-0, “We can always get better. We’ve got higher expectations than this…”


Kyle Kennedy

Under-sized center, 5-foot-7, 268-pound Kyle Kennedy, explained that the Eagles’ weren’t the same up front without Lydting.

“Scott couldn’t go tonight that’s why Gannon got the start,” shared the 17-year-old Kennedy. “We struggled up front early trying to figure out who to block. Thank goodness we got a “W“ tonight.”

Kennedy said one of the keys to the game was Alexis running and catching the football.

“He always runs hard. I love blocking for him, but that touchdown pass was the key. It gave us some life.“

On starting the season 5-0, “It’s nice to be 5-0,“ noted Kennedy. “But it’s even better to be 1-0 in the district. These are the games that get you to the playoffs. The final score doesn’t bother me, we have to get better.”

Angel Peralta

Peralta, who entered the game as the team’s seventh-best tackler with 22 stops including two for losses, savored his first-ever varsity pick.

“I was really excited to catch the ball,” summed up the 16-year-old Peralta. “After I caught it, I looking to score.”

On Peralta’s assessment of the game, “We could’ve played better. We just made way too many little mistakes. They all add up.”


Adonis Houston

Houston, who came into the game two quiet catches for 15 yards, enjoyed a coming out party.

“I feel so much better this week than last week when I was sick,” explained the 16-year-old Houston.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” shared Houston. “To begin the second half, we starting firing on all cylinders.”

On beginning the season as Hernando County‘s lone unbeaten and untied team, “This is an opportunity for us to reach our goals of playing in Daytona Beach. We’re one step closer to that goal.”

Seventh-year SHS skipper Mike Garofano improved to 5-0 lifetime behind Springstead’s seventh straight series win in over Pasco.

Mike Garofano                                        Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Garofano, however, took nothing for granted.

“At halftime, all the coaches were getting on the kids. We weren’t hitting, we were catching but not dropping them,“ explained Garofano.

“To their credit, they came out with an entirely different defense than we’ve seen. I didn’t think we were sharp except for Max (O’Rourke). He deserved a better fate on his passes. We had guys open and we got ‘em the ball they’ve got to hold on. …I really thought we failed to execute offensively.

“Defensively, we’ve had three goal line stands in three games,“ added Garofano. “We bent, but we didn‘t break. It’s a testament to our coaches that we’re playing so well on that side of the ball. And that’s with all the injuries.”

On who stood out, “Max (O’Rourke) played really well. So did Logan (Blevens) at safety. We dropped a couple passes which hurt. Pasco was putting anywhere from 9-11 guys in the box. You’ve got to be able to take advantage of the matchup.

“I give Pasco a lot of credit. They played with a lot of heart and athleticism. This is a carbon copy of what we’re gonna be facing next week with Hernando coming to town.”

 Springstead 10, Pasco 3























Individual Scoring:

SPG – Alexis 42 pass from O’Rourke (O’Rourke kick).

SPG – O’Rourke 40 FG.

PAS – Herrera 28 FG.





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