Games Friday at 7:30 p.m.
No. 6 Orlando East River (9-1) at No. 3 Plant (9-1)
Players to watch: Senior quarterback Jordan McCloud is a dual threat. The brother of Clemson standout Ray-Ray McCloud, he has thrown for 1,663 yards and 20 touchdowns and also run for 297 yards and five touchdowns. The Panthers spread the ball all over the place in the running game. There have been eight runners with at least 10 carries and 22 players have at least one carry. Sophomore receiver Frank Murphy 11 TD catches and 567 receiving yards. Senior linebacker Micah McFadden leads the Panthers with 144 total tackles, six sacks and 34 tackles for loss. East River quarterback Tyler O'Hara has been accurate this season. He has 17 touchdowns and two interceptions and has thrown for 1,323 yards. This is no outstanding running backs, but three players, Aadonis Harris, Jose Garcia and Nykie Marion, have more than 350 yards rushing.
Notable: The only loss this season for the Falcons was to Lake Nona, which plays Wiregrass Ranch, which lost to Plant three weeks ago. East River was 5-5 last season. The Panthers have not lost a first-round playoff game under coach Robert Weiner, dating to 2005.
Coach says: "The days of having a 3-7 pushover type team in the first round is over. Once you get past the district champions, there are some pretty good teams left. East River is certainly one of those teams. So we're hoping our experience, and their lack thereof, will work in our favor. That and the Dad's Stadium affect." — Weiner
Rodney Page: Plant 24-20
Bob Putnam: Plant 28-14
No. 7 Gaither (7-3) at No. 2 Viera (7-1)
Players to watch: In his first year as a starter for the Cowboys, Jeromy Reid has emerged as one of the best running backs in the area with 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns. He has the benefit of following the holes created by a massive offensive line, led by tackle Donovan Jennings (6-5, 310) and guard Ryan Stoup (6-4, 310). Connor Jewel (51 tackles, 12 sacks) is a force on Gaither's defensive line. Viera quarterback Tim DeMorat has thrown for 1,837 yards and 17 touchdowns. His favorite target is Sean Atkins (738 yards, 12 touchdowns).
Notable: Under first-year coach Kirk Karsen, the Cowboys had their first winning season in three years and are in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Gaither's improvement is due in large part to their running game, which led Hillsborough County with an average of 278 yards per game. The Hawks are ranked ninth overall in the state, regardless of classification, by MaxPreps. Their only loss was in overtime to Cocoa.
Coach says: "I know Plant coach Robert Weiner well and was able to talk to him about Viera because he played them last season. Viera seems very undersized. I think we have a great chance to win." — Gaither's Karsen
Page: Viera 27-24
Putnam: Viera 23-17
No. 5 Wiregrass Ranch (8-2) at No. 4 Lake Nona (7-3)
Players to watch: Bulls running back Adrian Thomas has carried 145 times this season, more than triple any other ball carriers. He has 844 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Grant Sessums spreads the ball around when he throws. There have been 10 players who have caught passes, with seniors Daniel Biglow, A.J. Brown and Jordan Miner each with three touchdown catches. Miner, a Penn State commit, is extremely dangerous as a punt and kick returner. He also has two interceptions. Senior Jacob Hill leads the team with five interceptions. Lake Nona can throw. Junior quarterback Michael Kern has passed for 3,048 yards and 39 touchdowns, both tops in the state. He also has 10 interceptions. Two receivers, seniors Anthony Queeley and Anthony Manning, have more than 1,000 yards receiving.
Notable: The Lions enter the playoffs losing two of their last three. Last season they lost in the first round to Stuart Martin County. They have never won a playoff game. This is the second straight playoff appearance for the Bulls under third-year coach Mark Kantor. They were 2-8 in Kantor's first season.
Coach says: "They throw the ball about 50 times per game so we're going to have to be ready for that. But we have a very good secondary. I don't think they have played against a secondary like ours. So I think we're going to have our chances. And we can't let Lake Nona get their first playoff win against us." — Wiregrass' Kantor
Page: Lake Nona 31-28
Putnam: Wiregrass Ranch 27-23
No. 8 St. Petersburg (6-4) at No. 1 Venice (9-1)
Players to watch: Green Devils sophomore quarterback Tonio Shavers has done well in his first season under center. He's thrown for 807 yards and seven touchdowns and has scored seven rushing touchdowns, mostly on short-yardage keepers. Senior Anthony Johnson is a lock-down cornerback when healthy, and he is back to being healthy after struggling midseason with a knee injury. The Iowa State commit has three interceptions in eight games. He is also used as a receiver. Athlete Jalynn Williams, who has missed most of eight games with an ankle injury, is available against Venice. The Indians throw the ball, and throw it well. Quarterback Bryce Carpenter has 2,107 passing yards. His main target is Jaivon Heiligh, who has 1,515 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns. He ranks first in the state in receiving yards and is committed to Coastal Carolina.
Notable: The Indians' only loss was to IMG Academy, and not the "B" team. The real IMG Academy. There is also a 41-35 win over Braden River, which St. Petersburg lost 38-14 to last week. Venice is ranked fifth in the state by MaxPreps, one ahead of Armwood.
Coach says: "The goal every year is to make the playoffs and we've accomplished that goal. Once you're in, everything starts all over. We've played a tough schedule and we believe we're as prepared as we can be." — St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio said.
Page: Venice 47-14
Putnam: Venice 28-20
No. 7 Bloomingdale (7-3) at No. 2 Tampa Bay Tech (9-1)
Players to watch: First and foremost it is Titans quarterback Michael Penix Jr. He rarely makes mistakes (26 touchdowns, three interceptions) and he is a threat to run as well (276 yards, five touchdowns). The Tennessee commit has plenty of teammates to throw to. Evan Lewis has six touchdown receptions; freshman Myron Scott has five. Overall, nine receivers have caught a touchdown pass. Bloomingdale quarterback Tyler Hunter has had a very good season as well. He has thrown for 2,195 yards and 25 touchdowns, but is not as mobile as Penix. Junior Terrel Ferrell has 1,052 receiving yards and has caught 13 touchdown passes. He ranks fifth in the state in receiving yards. Titans coach Jayson Roberts said Ferrell may be one of the top playmakers in the state.
Notable: Bloomingdale was 1-9 just two years ago. But under second-year coach Max Warner the Bulls are 13-7. The Titans have won nine straight after opening the season with a loss to Plant. This is the fourth straight playoff appearance for TBT.
Coach says: "I think this is the best team overall that we've had going into the playoffs. I think we're more well-rounded than we've ever been. And we're good where it really matters, which is up front on the offensive and defensive lines." — TBT's Roberts
Page: Tampa Bay Tech 38-21
Putnam: Tampa Bay Tech 48-27
No. 6 Palmetto (6-3) at No. 3 Pinellas Park (8-2)
Players to watch: The Patriots rely heavily on the legs of sophomore Lawrance Toafili. He broke Keith Stephen's single-season rushing record set in 1984 and now has 1,583 yards in ten games. Other backs, including Derek Bryant, Ethan Blanchard and Jalen Ware, will also get carries. Palmetto junior quarterback Anthony Marino is in his first year as the full-time starter. He has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and will be an offensive threat.
Notable: The Patriots had not made the playoffs since 2014. Palmetto has missed out on the postseason the past two years. The last time Pinellas Park won a playoff game was 2013, 32-7 over Sarasota.
Coach says: "We're young and don't have much playoff experience but these guys don't care about that. They're tough as heck and they'll play hard against anybody. This is one of the best all around teams I've coached here." — Pinellas Park cooach Kenny Crawford
Page: Pinellas Park 26-23
Putnam: Pinellas Park 20-14