East Lake High School coach Bob Hudson isn’t treating Plant any differently than any other team the Eagles faced this season, regardless of the Panthers’ three state titles and rampage through the postseason the past four seasons.
In fact, his biggest chore this week will be to simply humanize the Panthers.
Take away James Few’s beard, and all that speed, and all those assistant coaches and that Plant, Plant, Plant chant, and it’s just another football team full of teenagers, right?
Same for Jason Stokes, who leads Gaither into Lakeland’s Bryant Stadium, with the kind of scoreboard only six state titles can buy.
Ditto for Chris Miller, whose Admiral Farragut squad hosts Belle Glade Glades Day, which has played in 14 state championship games and won seven of them — the most recent coming last year.
And the year before that.
Heck, who cares if they have the state’s all-time leading rusher.
Welcome to Round 3 of the high school football playoffs: Mystique Week.
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Pasco and Jesuit are playing Friday, a rematch of the 1992 state championship game that featured Pirates quarterback Issac Johnson getting out of jail just in time to lead his team to a 28-16 victory.
Even in a pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-Internet age, that set Tampa Bay on fire.
If it happened today, it might implode the whole area.
The victory remains reverential in Dade City.
Jesuit has won six of the seven meetings between the teams since. And the Tigers hail from Hillsborough County, which has won 12 straight games against Pasco dating to 1996. The last four have been playoff games, by an average score of 54-16.
Mystique? Or ancient history?
• • •
East Lake has the stiffest test this week, according to, well, just about everybody.
Joe Pinkos’ Power Ratings, calculated based upon strength of schedule and margin of victory, completely agrees and then some.
Pinkos has Plant beating East Lake by 28 points, the largest margin of victory forecast in the entire state.
Second largest? Armwood is favored by 23 over Gainesville.
The others: Lakeland by 10 over Gaither, American Heritage by 14 over Berkeley Prep, Jesuit by 4 over Pasco and Admiral Farragut by 3 over Glades Day.
But he’s only been right 80 percent of the time, so there’s that.
• • •
Is there an expiration date on mystique? And if so, did Lakeland’s expire somewhere right around James Wilder Jr.’s fourth or fifth touchdown in last year’s 48-6 Plant rout, or sooner?
Gaither hopes so.
Note to Cowboys: Remember, Lakeland didn’t win a single game last year! Oh, and do not look at the jumbotron. It will hypnotize you.
• • •
It’s bonus time for St. Petersburg football fans. They can root on Admiral Farragut in its quest to win the county’s first-ever state title — or at the very least, become the first team to reach the finals since Dixie Hollins did in 1995 — and watch the state’s all-time leading rusher in Kelvin Taylor as well.
Taylor, the son of former Florida Gator Fred Taylor, led Glades Day to victory last week with 345 yards rushing and four touchdowns. And earlier this season he broke Emmitt Smith’s all-time career-rushing mark of 8,804 yards.
• • •
Berkeley Prep has made three previous appearances in the state semifinals: 1980, 1984 and 1985. Those last two years the Bucs had to overcome all-state wide receiver Alvin Harper, who went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys and Bucs.
But each time the Bucs made the semifinals, Glades Day was waiting, winning 34-6, 6-2 and 7-0.
The Gators have lost one playoff game to a Tampa Bay school, and it was the first one they ever played in 1975, against …wait for it …Shorecrest.
Since then, the Gators have won 12 straight playoff games against local competition, putting up scores like 72-7, 66-7 and 61-18 on poor, hapless local competition.
But that was then.
This is now.
And remember this: underneath the helmets and pads and underneath all that swagger, it’s just another football team full of teenagers, right?
John Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
All games 7:30 p.m. Friday
8A: Plant at East Lake
7A: Gaither at Lakeland
6A: Gainesville at Armwood
5A: Jesuit at Pasco
3A: Berkeley Prep at Delray Beach American Heritage
2A: Belle Glade Glades Day at Admiral Farragut