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Class 5A playoff football capsules

By Traci Johnson
Hernando's Ygenio Booker looks to evade a tackle from Nature Coast's Zachary Powell. (Loren Elliott, Times)

All games at 7:30 p.m.

No. 6 Jesuit (5-4) at No. 3 Jefferson (8-2)

Players to watch: Jefferson senior quarterback Matt Gaffney has had a good season, throwing for 1,689 yards and 12 touchdowns, including two in the 17-16 win over Jesuit two weeks ago. Senior Justin McGriff caught one of those passes and has four TD receptions this season. Junior Niko Duffey is the top rusher with 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns. Jesuit is young. They are led offensively by junior RB Larry Hodges and senior RB Vinny Losauro. Sophomore tight end Jonathan Odom, son of former Florida and Bucs offensive lineman Jeff Odom, is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and tough to cover. He scored two touchdowns against Tampa Catholic last week.

Notable: Jefferson is back at full strength after three players suspended for six weeks due to their involvement in a brawl against Middleton were deemed eligible for the playoffs. This is a rematch of a game played on Oct. 30 for the Class 5A, District 10 championship. That snapped a streak of four straight district titles for the Tigers. Jefferson played Jesuit twice last season as well. The Tigers won both of those meetings, including the region semifinal, 42-21. This is the third straight season the Dragons have been in the playoffs and Jesuit has ended its season the past two years.

Coach says: "I was proud of the way we played (against Tampa Catholic). We got better and better as the game went on. We were fresh. Now we're going to be ready for Jefferson again." — Jesuit coach Matt Thompson. (May switch with Earle)

Predictions

Rodney Page: Jesuit 17-16

Bob Putnam: Jesuit 21-17

No. 7 Tarpon Springs (5-4) at No. 2 Lakewood (7-1)

Players to watch: Stop Troy'von Johnson and there is a good chance of stopping Lakewood. Johnson is mainly a receiver (16 catches, 351 yards, three touchdowns) but he is also used at quarterback in some situations. Greg Spann is the starting quarterback and has thrown for 768 yards and eight touchdowns. He scored two rushing touchdowns against the Spongers in the first meeting. Tarpon Springs has lost two straight and three of its last four. Senior Justice Parham and sophomore Adam Hardy have split time at quarterback. Senior J'von France has been the main target for both with 22 receptions for 543 yards and six touchdowns.

Notable: This is a rematch of Class 5A, District 9 opponents. Lakewood won the first time around, 36-14 on Oct. 27. The Spartans got some bad news on Tuesday. Junior free safety Isaiah Bryant's father passed away suddenly, according to coach Cory Moore. He was close to several players on the team and they will dedicate the game in his honor.

Coach says: "The guys know that if they don't play well you go home. It's all about staying alive. It doesn't matter what happened last time, it's about this one game and worrying about Tarpon Springs and nobody else." —Lakewood's Moore

Predictions

Page: Lakewood 35-14

Putnam: Lakewood 27-16

No. 6 Clay (7-3) at No. 3 Hernando (7-2)

Players to watch: While Hernando has shown an ability to pass, the attack is centered around the option running game. Fullback Izzy Fields is the main cog with 804 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has averaged almost 9 yards per carry as he splits with his brother Isaac Fields (398 yards, five TDs), wide receiver Ygenio Booker (324 yards, two TDs) and quarterback Boston Tafelski (355 yards, seven TDs). Defensively, the Leopards have been swarming behind linebackers Lawrence Sansone (73 tackles, one sack), Ja'Vaughn Dorsey (74 tackles, one sack, five forced fumbles) and Jacob Butts (71 tackles, one interception). Clay senior Aundre Carter is averaging nearly 10 yards per carry as he racked up 1,613 yards and 16 touchdowns. Senior Caleb Eason is a 6-foot-3 pocket passer, who has thrown for 1,418 yards and 24 touchdowns and only one interception.

Notable: Clay not has only been to the postseason nine times in the past 11 seasons, but the Blue Devils were state semifinalists each of the past two years and were state runners-up in 2013. Clay defeated Nature Coast in the region finals in 2015 and did the same to River Ridge last year.

Coach says: "(Clay can) put up a lot of points. We have a tall task ahead of us. Our kids don't want to rest on being district champions. Big games don't happen just on paper. It's about guys stepping up and doing their jobs at a higher rate than others thought they could." — Hernando coach Bill Vonada

Predictions

Page: Clay 26-23

Putnam: Clay 30-27

No. 7 River Ridge (7-3) at No. 2 Zephyrhills (9-1)

Players to watch: River Ridge's Mikey Roussos has a team-leading 406 yards receiving and six touchdowns. On defense,the Royal Knights' Tyler Poitier has 9.5 sacks and teammates Bryce Smith and Anthony Kendall each have five interceptions.  Zephyrhills quarterback Charles Harrison III has thrown for 1,754 yards and 27 touchdowns. Elijah Thomas is a standout on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs with 820 yards rushing and 6.5 sacks.

Notable: This rematch from the regular season. Zephyrhills won the first meeting 38-35. Harrison accounted for five touchdowns, including a score on the ground in the final minute that proved to be the winner.

Coach says: "We're preparing for another battle. We have to win the turnover battle, field position and stay disciplined. We also need to limit the penalties."  Zephyrhills coach Nick Carroll

Predictions

Page: Zephyrhills 35-28

Putnam: Zephyrhills 42-41

No. 8 Nature Coast (7-2) at No.1 Baker County (9-1)

Players to watch: What Nature Coast has done best in recent years is run, and this season is no different. Junior Michael Weston is the top ball carrier with 970 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Fabian Burnett is a dual-threat. He tends to use his legs first, with 779 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 75 carries. He's also thrown for 525 yards. Sophomore Lenkel Smith leads the secondary with three interceptions.

Notable: Second-year Baker County coach Jamie Rodgers previously found success at Suwannee and immediately turned around the Wildcats with back-to-back district titles and a 21-14 win at Clay three weeks ago.

Coach says: "Our guys have been doing a good job of keeping their composure, and we'll need to keep that up going forward."— Nature Coast coach Cory Johns on the defensive unit cutting down on penalties as the season wears on

Predictions

Page: Baker County 30-28

Putnam: Baker County 26-21

Correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere contributed to this report.