2011 Rebuilding Year? Roberts, (Coach and Jamal) and Bulldogs Prove Not

By on November 24, 2011

 Zephyrhills, Fla. — Thoughts of what could have been are currently filling the minds of the 2011 Zephyrhills High School football team, yet it would be a mistake to consider this year’s Bulldogs campaign a disappointment.

 Before the season, most coaches and prognosticators from around Pasco County thought that the Bulldogs would be in rebuilding mode, not competing for a playoff berth in Class 5A-District 6. A subpar offense was going to keep Zephyrhills in the bottom half of the district standings, or so everyone thought. 

 A 31-14 win against Brooksville Central in the preseason kickoff classic would give a taste of what was to come from this group. The Bulldogs played great defense and racked up 387 yards on the ground, but six offensive fumbles (losing three of them) took some luster off a win that didn’t count toward the overall record anyway.

The mistakes made in the kickoff classic continued early into the season, as turnovers played a big part in an 0-2 start against non-district foes. Those who doubted Zephyrhills pointed to the mistakes this young group made in losses to Land O’ Lakes and Tampa Catholic, but seemed to overlook the production of one of the county’s most lethal weapons.

Senior quarterback Jamal Roberts ran the inside option to perfection against Central (to the tune of 243 yards rushing on 10 carries) and would prove to be the catalyst of an offense that would average 34.1 points per game on the season.

Roberts would finish the season with 1,030 rushing yards and had 20 touchdowns on the ground (according to maxpreps.com), leading Zephyrhills on a five game winning streak after the loss to Tampa Catholic. The Bulldogs outscored their opponents 222-46 during the streak, with all the wins coming against district opponents.

The 5-0 start in district play forced everyone to reassess their assumptions about Zephyrhills, setting the stage for a pivotal matchup with the upstart Fivay Falcons on the last Friday of October. The winner of that game would have a stranglehold of second place in the district and would more-than-likely represent its school in the playoffs. 

In a contest that the St. Pete Times would call the game of the year in Pasco County, the Falcons, in only their second year of existence, overcame a nine point deficit in the closing minutes to stun the Bulldogs, 48-42.

 Roberts did his part against Fivay, rushing for 200 yards and three touchdowns, but the inability of the defense to get a stop when it needed one doomed Zephyrhills.

 With Zephyrhills leading 42-33, a three yard touchdown plunge from running back Kyrie Rodrigiez, with less than four minutes left, trimmed the Falcons deficit to two points. An onside kick was recovered by Fivay and two plays later they were in the end zone again, this time on a 44 yard touchdown pass from Tyler Degen to James Bullock. A two point conversion would give the Falcons their winning margin and, essentially, thrust them into the state playoffs. 

 With the loss, Zephyrhills was on the outside of the playoff-picture looking in, needing a win the following week in the latest installment of the Nine Mile War, against arch-rival Pasco, to force a three-way tie-breaker and keep its playoff hopes alive.

Instead, the county’s most dominant team (scoring 50 or more points in eight of ten regular season games this year) registered its sixth shutout of the season in a 45-0 beatdown, putting the final nail into the coffin of the potential Zephyrhills playoff scenario.

 A 43-14 win in the final week of the season, against Wiregrass Ranch, allowed the Bulldogs to finish with a 6-4 record, but it did nothing to heal the pain caused in the previous two weeks.

Heartbreak seems to be the overriding theme of the 2011 Zephyrhills football season, but this team had an opportunity that no one expected them to have (to extend their season). Just because the Bulldogs came up short, that does not mean that their season was a waste.  

Despite the sting of being just minutes away from an appearance in the state playoffs, Zephyrhills achieved a winning record for the first time since 2006 and created buzz that hasn’t been felt in this part of the county in quite some time.

Coming off of consecutive 2-8 seasons, it was easy for everyone to write this team off. Instead, the Bulldogs proved their pre-season doubters (myself included) wrong for much of the year and made their program relevant again.

With the upcoming graduation of Roberts in June, many of the same questions concerning the Zephyrhills offense will resurface as we head into spring practices in a few months. Instead of asking that question, however, I will continue to ponder how a team no one believed in came minutes away from a chance at postseason glory.

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