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A statement game

There was a winner and a loser, but both teams served notice.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Two coaches. Two teams. Two radically different styles: of play, of coaching, of football.

And yet, you would be hard-pressed to find two schools more alike in Pasco County than Pasco and River Ridge.

Both seek to restore themselves. Pasco wants to recapture the east side. River Ridge wants to again be the dominant westside team. It won't get the Royal Knights into the playoffs, but pride lasts longer than the postseason in this county.

Friday night wasn't just about who won or lost. Yes, every game counts in the era of at-large playoff bids. But this game was important more for what it means for the rest of the season, rather than one night.

This was a statement game, made by two teams that desperately needed to make a statement. Any statement, after last season.

Both, I think, succeeded.

No surprise, Pasco proved it is again to be reckoned with.

Pasco coach Ricky Thomas' teams have always fought hard, and his defense put on a hitting clinic unseen in Dade City since the 1998 Pirates terrorized these parts. Quarterback Ben Alford is a gutsy, athletic competitor now in his third year carrying the team. The Pirates always have playmakers like Marcus Allen and hitters like Tom Brunk.

Despite committing 18 penalties, to its credit Pasco kept the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for late. Cheap shots and verbal sparring were well below the school's historic average. The team managed to be aggressive without being malicious. What a relief it must be in Dade City to see the yellow flag fly, and it's just 5 yards for delay of game.

River Ridge coach Mike DeGennaro's teams have also struggled to regain their former glory.

Scheduling was a big part of it. DeGennaro's first year was spent fending off Hillsborough County powers. Then Mitchell's opening siphoned off coaches and players. It didn't help that subsequent senior classes were unwilling to work as hard as DeGennaro and his staff to maintain the Royal Knights' high standing. That was never more glaring than in last season's 3-7 campaign.

Yet River Ridge started to restore its reputation for tough football and tougher players Friday night.

Alan Minichino and Anthony Daugherty flew all over the field. Danny Grant had two sacks. David Onorato picked off two passes, leading a unit of playmakers that included speedster Jahmaal Osbourne, who took the opening kickoff all the way for a score, and 6-foot-7 wideout Alex Wilson.

The good news for these two teams is district play doesn't begin until Sept. 20. The bad news is they could self-destruct again, just like last season.

All good teams hide their flaws. The Pirates are defined by them. Blazing speed should be winning games, not bailing out games. Commit 18 penalties and drop two touchdown passes against Wesley Chapel and see what happens.

The Knights' problems once again start and end with their young offensive line. River Ridge can block its way to greatness. Or it won't.

One team won Friday night. The other lost. So what? There's more to come, a season still to be played. Maybe even the best seasons these two teams have had in quite a while.

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