By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000
DADE CITY -- First, the bad news.
The Blake High School Marching Yellow Jackets will not be performing during halftime of tonight's Pasco-Blake game at W.F. Edwards Stadium.
Yeah, I know, I know. Still, I'll be at the game anyway.
Now, the good news.
Pasco star safety and wide receiver Joe Bain got the good news on Oct. 6, just hours before "The 9-Mile War" between Pasco and Zephyrhills. Bain had gotten his ACT score back in the mail.
It was a 71, a qualifying score. That, and his 3.1 weighted GPA, make him Division I eligible.
"He was so happy," Pirates coach Ricky Thomas said. "He came flying down the stairs to tell me."
The 6-foot-3, 188-pound senior is Pasco's leading scorer with seven touchdowns this season. He has 22 catches for 360 yards to go along with 24 tackles and 11 assists, three interceptions and a sack.
Bain said Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Clemson and South Florida are all interested in him, as undoubtedly many, many other schools will be.
"I ain't worried about it now," Bain said. "I haven't decided yet."
Now, some more bad news.
Every team in east Pasco County is struggling to find itself entering tonight's matchups.
Zephyrhills, still suffering from the effects of losing 10-7 to Pasco two weeks ago, lost 27-0 to Jesuit last week. The Bulldogs' post-season hopes seem all but done.
The team has the bye week to mull it over and decide how badly it wants a winning record and a share of the Sunshine Athletic Conference title.
Land O'Lakes won its first "big" game of the season against Pasco on the road, and it was the kind of win that can drive a team right to the playoffs.
But coach John Benedetto knows that his team is still an enigma. What kind of football will the Gators play tonight against Ridgewood? It is the team's third consecutive "big" game, this one with playoff implications.
"We haven't played our best game of the year yet, I don't think," Benedetto said. "I'm still waiting for that to happen and I'm not sure if it's going to happen. Many times we've lined up in the last couple of weeks and I think we're going to come out and take control early, and we never do."
Benedetto's pessimism is legendary. He's the Lou Holtz of Pasco County. Still, that's just a side effect of having high standards. When you fall short of them, you're the first one to notice. Benedetto said leadership would help his team reach its potential.
"There are a lot of good seniors on this team," Benedetto said. "I'm expecting them to take over the leadership role and get these other kids motivated and move them in the right direction.
"So far, I haven't been happy with it."
Nor was Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare happy with his team's lackluster effort in a 27-3 loss to Ridgewood. The Rams dominated the flat Wildcats in every respect, and Castelamare could not hide his disappointment.
"I've never seen them play that poorly this whole year," Castelamare said. "I'm not taking anything away from Ridgewood. But we told them we were a little embarrassed the way we played that game."
Castelamare didn't blame injuries to linebacker Chris Roberts or wideout Tyrone Tomlin for his team's woes. Nor has he lowered the bar for tonight's contest against Berkeley Prep. A win would keep the Wildcats' dim post-season hopes alive in Class 2A, District 7.
"Every game is important," he said. "I told them play every game like a championship."
Pasco coach Ricky Thomas also expects better of his team. But the Pirates continue to make the crucial mistakes that decide games in the favor of other teams. Last week, Pasco gave Land O'Lakes three crucial fumbles and an interception. Tonight, another 3A-6 opponent looms in Blake.
"If we don't turn it over, I think we've got a pretty good chance of beating Blake," Thomas sad. "I know there's a lot of emphasis on beating a Hillsborough County team, but right now, I'm concerned with getting a win.
"All I know is, Blake is next."