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EAST LAKE -- It wasn’t an accident East Lake played a tough schedule this fall. Eagles coach Bob Hudson wanted his team ready for the playoffs.
Now that the postseason is here, he looks awfully smart.
Tonight, East Lake (7-3) plays a Tampa Bay Tech (8-1) team in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs that arguably has been the area’s best squad this fall. But because the Eagles already have faced the likes of St. Petersburg, Largo, Tarpon Springs, Countryside and Nature Coast, they won’t enter the game scared.
“It’s the playoffs,” Hudson said. “If you don’t play them this week, you have to play them eventually anyway. This is exciting.”
According to Hudson, TBT is probably the most physically gifted team East Lake has seen. That said, the coach thinks the Eagles are prepared.
“Probably the closest one we’ve played with their style and athletic ability is Largo,” Hudson said.
Largo beat East Lake 20-7 in Week 2. However, the Eagles not only were in that game the entire way, but played without talented tailback Jamaal Wilburn (1,185 yards, 14 TDs) -- their top offensive playmaker.
In other words, East Lake has hope.
To win, the Eagles will have to be at their best. The running game will have to click. They likely will need to control the clock. They’ll probably have to win the turnover battle. And, of course, they will need another big effort from a defense that has been exceptional in all but one game, a loss to 9-1 Countryside.
TBT, led by FB Maurice Hagens, a Miami commit, is a physical team that will run right at the teeth of the East Lake defense, which is led by linemen Justin Clarida, Dylan Hastie, Bobby Lyons and Brandon Vazquez. That battle could determine East Lake’s fate.
“Tech likes to run it down your throat,” Hudson said. “Those guys will have to dig in.”