To those of you who emailed in last week asking where the Grab Bag was, accusing me of slacking, sleeping and picking my nose: pfffffffft.
It's back. And it's better. So jump in. And feel free to get involved in the Grab Bag by sending along goodies to email@example.com, and don't forget to follow along on Twitter@JohnnyHomeTeam.
The Dandy Dozen
1. Armwood at Plant: The Hawks are changing things up this week, but will it be enough? I can't imagine the Hawks losing two straight. Armwood 21-14.
2. Indian Rocks at Carrollwood Day: The Golden Eagles can clinch a district title, their first ever, with a win. But CDS is desperate and in a must-win spot, and while you have to love IRC's future, I love CDS' present -- Vidal Woodruff, Robert Davis, Andy Embody -- just a little more. CDS 35-21.
3. Countryside at Pinellas Park: Poor Pinellas Park. If there was one week I would not want to play Countryside, this is it. The Cougars are angry and hurt, and they have to win. Bad combo for the Patriots. Countryside 35-7.
4. Hernando at Nature Coast Tech: Little known fact -- I have picked every Class 6A-6 game wrong this season. I'm not even allowed in Pasco and Hernando counties unsupervised anymore. I'm taking the Sharks 28-20, so Hernando, you can thank me later.
5. Mitchell at Springstead: I believe. Springstead 21-7.
6. Durant at East Bay: Gotta give the Indians credit for hanging in this district playoff hunt this long, but no one's stopping the Cougars until the playoffs start. And even then, I'm not sure. Cougars 35-7.
7. Strawberry Crest at Sickles: The Gryphons are in a tough spot, going from an immeasurable high to an unthinkable low in the span of one week. Can they rebound? I think so, but it won't be easy: 35-28.
8. Fivay at Zephyrhills: A must-win for both teams. I'll take the more consistent team that was able to score 20 on Pasco, which equates to 132 on any other team. Or something like that. Fivay 27-21.
9. Chamberlain at Gaither: Dangerous game for the Cowboys, and while they should win big, I predict something like an ugly 25-11 game that midway through has Cowboy fans calling for a coaching change, until a late Cowboy score seals it and there is nothing but love for Jason Stokes afterwards.
10. River Ridge at Sunlake: The Seahawks are still harboring playoff hopes, so they have to win, and they should: 25-17.
11. Hillsborough at King: Sure, everyone and their mother is saying the Terriers won the district last week, but that's false. What is true is this: they win it Friday, beating King 35-7.
Upset of the week
12. Robinson at Lakewood: The Spartans are a decided underdog. The voters in our pick-em are favoring Robinson 32-21 at the moment, and everywhere else you look Lakewood doesn't have the running game or coaching to match-up to the Knights. They may be right. But I need an upset, and the Spartans only lost by a touchdown last year and are a better team, is Robinson? I'll buck the trend here, and risk my chances for the HomeTeam Pick-Em championship by taking Lakewoooooooooood 21-20.
Grab Bag Offensive Player of the Week
Pete DiNovo, East Lake: The UCF-bound senior threw for a career-high 366 yards to pass former Gibbs star and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Shaun King and become Pinellas County's all-time leading passer with 5,767 yards and counting.
Grab Bag Defensive Player of the Week
If Lakewood goes on to do great things this season and in the playoffs, defensive back Shaquill Griffin's block of Jesuit's game-tying field goal attempt to preserve last week's victory will go down in Spartan lore.
By the (Big) Numbers
75 and 74: Yards rushing by Cyrus Cooley and Isiah Harris respectively in leading Brandon to its first win.
100:Percent of games this year that Strawberry Crest's Karel Hamilton has at least one touchdown catch.
329: yards passing for Plant City's Nick Rodriguez last week.
155: Rushing yards for Strawberry Crest's Chris Perez, after getting 100 combined in previous four games.
414: Yards receiving for East Lake's Artavis Scott the past two weeks, to go with six TDs.
Close … And a Cigar
Hillsborough's 3-0 victory over Armwood was rare, and not just because the Hawks were shut out. But when was the last time Hillsborough, a consistently proficient offensive team for decades under Earl Garcia, ever won a game with fewer points scored?
We found a few 7-0 wins (over Dr. Phillips in 1996, Chamberlain in 1987, Plant City in 1981), we found a few 3-0 losses handed out to the Terriers (Dunedin in 1983, Plant in 1969), and heck, there was even a 0-0 tie with Brandon in 1969.
The closest other low-scoring win for the Terriers that we could find was a 6-2 triumph over Winter Haven in 1987. But that's just the modern era. The unofficial record for the lowest-scoring win in Hillsborough history? A 2-0 win over Rollins College in 1910, which ironically was Garcia's first season as head coach.
(Okay, Garcia was not the coach that season, but we thought he might appreciate that joke, and suspect he would have made it himself if given the chance.)
Youth is Served
Indian Rocks Christian plays arguably the biggest game in school history Friday, and it may be the most successful young team in Tampa Bay. In last week's win, sophomore Damian King (four carries, 72 yards) and freshmen Theo Anderson (six for 94) and Zeke McGaughey (10 for 95) carried the rushing attack, freshmen Christian Frost and Chris Licea combined for 18 tackles and a sack each, and freshman kicker Patrick Robinson kicked five points after. For the year, freshmen have 110 of the Golden Eagles’ 188 rushing attempts, while seniors have just 11.
Has there been a better run defense that of Countryside this month? Nope. The Cougars have been absolutely dominant since suffering their only loss (on the field) to Largo. While outscoring their past four opponents 218-23, the Cougars have allowed 178 rushing yards on 105 carries, a measly 1.7 yards.
If Countryside isn't the best defense this month, then how about Springstead? In fact, let's put the Eagles in the running for Defense of the Year. Consider: Last week when Springstead allowed 218 total yards to Hernando, it marked a season high. A season high! The Eagles have been suffocating this season, holding five opponents (Sunlake, Fivay, Central, Ridgewood and Land O'Lakes) under 125 total yards. They held Anclote to 203, River Ridge to 212 and the Leopard to 218. That's combined rushing and passing, people! It's no wonder that the past five opponents the Eagles have played all scored just seven points. And lost.
Iowa State commit and Gaither star Earnest Suttles had three sacks last week against Freedom, and Freedom's Max Orr had three sacks against Gaither. But the top sack performances of the week go to Jesuit's Brad Smith and CCC's Sawyer Drury, who each had four. Other top sackers: St. Petersburg Catholic's Elevisi Halapio and CCC's Branden Junk had three, as did each of the Blake tandem of freshman Shavar Manuel and Randall Tucker. You might wanna keep an eye on Manuel (6-foot-1, 187), who has six this season.
Bullish on the Badger
Plant's Wesley Bullock had the first 200-yard game of his career, rushing for 211 on just 16 carries in a key win over Alonso last week. Bullock, whose nickname is Honey Badger, had 163 against Fletcher last season in the playoffs. The Plant senior may be heating up. Remember, last year he started slow, averaging 57 yards a game through seven weeks, before averaging 113 yards a game over the last seven, including five playoff games. Bullock is already ahead of last year's pace, with 654 yards compared to 403, and is finally healthy.
1. Keith Hopkins, Wharton: Has emerged as quarterback Chase Litton's go-to guy. In the Wildcats’ past two games, he has eight catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns, and has a touchdown catch in five straight games. Oh, and he's also Wharton's kicker.
2. Bubba Olivera, Berkeley Prep: The baseball standout has returned to the football field in a big way: 21 catches for 567 yards (27 yards a catch) and six touchdowns, and last week he had four catches for 126 yards against a stellar CCC defense.
3. Jake Shade, CCC: He deserves some love. A natural quarterback who started for CCC last year and took some grief, he was unseated by Blake Gomez and instead of sulking, reinvented himself with class as a guy who can do a little of everything. Last week, he has three catches for 43 yards and was CCC's leading receiver, had a sack on defense and recovered a fumble that led to the Marauders’ first touchdown.
4. Robby Hicks, Countryside: Thrust into the starting quarterback job when Christian Strong was declared ineligible, all Hicks has done is throw for 356 yards with three touchdowns in two victories, and already has more yards and touchdowns on the season than Strong.
5. Jacob Heintzelman, Hudson: The senior Cobras linebacker led his squad to a stunning win last week, posting his first double-digit tackle total (11), along with a sack and an interception. It was his second sack and interception of the season, to go with 41 tackles.
Nature Coast has surged into status as a playoff contender thanks to its unit of Killer Bs: Matt Breida (back-to-back 170 yard games), Josh Benyola (12 tackles each of the last two weeks, 88 on the year), Joey Berrios (14 tackles last week) and Rohan Blackwood (14 tackles, six sacks the last two weeks).
Admiral Farragut is the only team in Tampa Bay with a quarterback (Colby Robinson, 6th), running back (Todd Macon, 3rd) and wide receiver (Brad Hyman-Muhammad, 1st) ranked in the top 6 in yards of their respective categories.
Did You Know?
Palm Harbor University's only loss the past two seasons to teams not named East Lake (twice), CCC (twice) and Countryside (twice) is Tarpon Springs.
After some lean years, Osceola is clicking. The Warriors have won four straight games, their longest win streak since 2006, when it made the playoffs and lost in the first round to Plant. The Warriors are averaging 39 points a game during their current streak.
Sliver of Hope
Forgotten in all the playoff posturing and possibilities is Calvary Christian, which still could hold its destiny in its own hands. If Indian Rocks Christian loses Friday to Carrollwood Day, and Calvary beats Bradenton Christian, then defeats Carrollwood Day next week, a three-way tie for second would be created in Class 2A-5. Calvary Christian is coming off a game in which three players (Allen Barnes, Derek Barnes and Danny Giordano) rushed for more than 100 yards, a first in Tampa Bay this season.