For days, we've been agonizing over a catchy name for this critical Friday slate of local district games. With maddening futility, we've tried increasing the wattage on the mental bulb to come up with a phrase that sings. You know, something like Shakedown Saturday or Manic Monday.
Alas, we've drawn a blank. Begrudgingly, we're conceding to our creative shortcomings and simply calling it what it is.
The Biggest Friday of the Football Season to Date.
As playoff implications go, this is Hillsborough County prep football's most critical week so far. Other Fridays (i.e. Oct. 19) ultimately could eclipse it on the magnitude scale, but not by much.
No fewer than five games are expected to have a direct bearing on district championships. The matchups are so intriguing, we couldn't let them slip by without ranking them. Playoff importance, naturally, was our main criterion, but the on-paper matchup was a factor, as was the rivalry quotient.
Here then, in order, are the top five games of the week.
1. Plant at Wharton
At the beginning of the season, we would've put a steak dinner on Plant. Now, with Panthers starting QB Aaron Banks (shoulder) sidelined, we're not sure we'd bet a Happy Meal. This is the game of the year in a four-team district (8A-6), where every contest is critical. Toss in that recent brouhaha involving Plant's volleyball parents and Wharton's "Blue Crew" student section and, well, this one could get chippier than an episode of Dance Moms.
2. Tampa Catholic at Clearwater Central Catholic
The rivalry and recent history of this series make this one a must-see even without the postseason ramifications. Because TC and CCC also are in a four-team district (3A-5) with undefeated Berkeley Prep, this stands on the fringe of being a playoff elimination game. CCC stole one on a rainy night last year at TC which -- in a cosmic, karma sort of way -- made up for the 76-7 thumping the Crusaders put on John Davis' Marauders squad 16 years before.
3. Jefferson at Hillsborough
Neither will have their playoff hopes necessarily dashed tonight, though the Dragons (0-1 in 6A-8) will find themselves behind the eight-ball with a defeat. This is one of several intense, evenly-matched clashes in the area's deepest district. As an added story line, Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle was the quarterback on Earl Garcia's 1996 Terriers team that reached the Class 6A state final.
4. Sickles at Armwood
Another big-time 6A-8 matchup. Because the Gryphons might have their best team ever, and because Armwood has proven vulnerable this season, and because Sickles is due for a decent showing against the Hawks, this one could be very interesting.
5. Plant City at Durant
Because 7A-8 is shaping up as a three-team race (these two teams and Newsome), the ramifications of this game are obvious. What's more, it's a crosstown rivalry (winner gets the Jim Redman trophy) in a community where football remains No. 1 (or 1A during strawberry season). Plant City has won the last three in this series, which only means Durant is due.