Bulldogs kept Wildcats at arm's length
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
ZEPHYRHILLS -- The scoreboard showed a 24-14 lead for the Bulldogs, but momentum had clearly swung back into Wesley Chapel's hands.
Senior fullback Justin Cobb, who had forced a fumble and scored Zephyrhills' first touchdown, had been stopped on fourth-and-goal from the Wesley Chapel 1. The Wildcats were marching down the field, getting a 15-yard pass and 17-yard run on back-to-back plays to cross midfield.
But then Tyrone Tomlin, the county's leading rusher, took a pitch to the right side and was promptly dropped for a 10-yard loss by defensive end Casey Finley. Two plays later, Kevin Senior had a 7-yard sack, leaving Wesley Chapel to open the fourth quarter by punting on fourth-and-27.
In that final quarter, every time Wesley Chapel clawed back, Zephyrhills had just enough in the tank to keep them away:
After its lead was cut to 24-21, Zephyrhills fumbled (and recovered) on first down. Then, forced to punt from its 24, the Bulldogs got a 55-yarder from backup punter John McKnight.
After Wesley Chapel reached the Zephyrhills 40, the Bulldogs forced a pair of incompletions. Then on fourth-and-7, the Bulldogs dropped Tomlin for a 9-yard loss.
Punting again with 2:01 to go, Zephyrhills' snap sailed over McKnight's head for a 35-yard loss, giving the Wildcats the ball on the Bulldog 19. Finley forced a fumble from Greg Harrison, and Tony Smiley recovered to end the Wildcats' last rally.
The Bulldogs made no first downs on their final four possessions, salting away just enough clock to take a knee on fourth down as time expired.
The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-0 in Class 3A, District 7) find themselves tied with Pasco atop the district.
"We've got a good chance of winning the district now," Finley said. "It's awesome. We've got to take it one game at a time now, and we've got Ridgewood next week. Hopefully, we'll play well and we'll win."
That was Zephyrhills on Friday: playing well and winning. The Bulldogs committed no turnovers, and of their six penalties, only one, a questionable pass interference call, gave the Wildcats a first down. Take away the botched punt and the Bulldogs outrushed the county's top rushing team. Wesley Chapel had given up 10 points in its first four games. Zephyrhills had 24 in the first half.
The knockout punch was actually a 1-2 combination -- receiver Keith Osterman, who wears jersey No. 1, took a lateral from quarterback James Adamo, then threw a long pass to receiver Tony Smiley -- wearing No. 2 -- for a 66-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the half.
In the aftermath of Friday's upset, the entire eastside playoff picture has changed. While everything in the county had once seemed to be leading up to a season-ending, conference showdown between Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes, there could be just as much on the line a week earlier when Pasco travels to Zephyrhills for the 9-Mile Rivalry.
Another possibility: If Wesley Chapel beats Pasco but Pasco can beat Zephyrhills, the three could be deadlocked atop the standings with 4-1 records. The tie might have to be broken with a three-team district shootout.
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