Just because the playoff teams from the North Suncoast have already been decided doesn’t mean the final week of the regular season is meaningless.
The teams in action Friday all have something worth playing for, from a boost headed into the postseason to much-needed confidence after rough a 2012 season.
Here are the five biggest story lines for Week 11:
1. How will almost-playoff teams rebound?
Zephyrhills has endured a rough eight days, with three players benched in the 9-Mile War because of eligibility concerns. Then three turnovers led to a shutout loss to Anclote in Monday’s Class 5A, District 6 tiebreaker. Fivay is in a similar situation after missing a chance at a second trip to the playoffs in two varsity seasons by falling to the Sharks at home Monday. Both teams need wins to match their victory totals from last fall. Snake-bitten Sunlake could win eight games but still miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The Seahawks would like to send athlete Eddie Burgos and a strong senior class out with a victory.
2. Can Wiregrass Ranch and Gulf get their first wins?
The Bulls and Buccaneers have had trying seasons with injuries testing their depth at times. Gulf’s young players — including junior kicker Michael O’Donnell, sophomore receiver/defensive back Morgan Smith and junior running back/receiver Travis Thomas — have had to grow up fast. They’ll try to reward a senior class led by Genaro Ramirez, Dustin Bush and Chris Klyap and avoid the school’s first 0-10 season since 1982. Wiregrass Ranch made the playoffs in 2010, but a new district has Ryan Shea, Woodson Hyppolite and the Bulls trying to avoid a second straight winless season. Both teams face tough opponents. Sunlake and Zephyrhills have combined to post a 12-6 record, so upsets seem unlikely.
3. Will playoff-bound Pasco and Anclote stay healthy?
The Pirates have already had one injury scare, when standout athlete Janarion Grant broke his hand before his team’s regular-season opener against Land O’Lakes. Grant’s injury forced Pasco to develop key athletes like Nate Craig-Myers, Malik Johns and James McClinton, but Grant adds another dimension to a loaded Pirates team. Anclote doesn’t have Pasco’s depth, so injuries are a bigger concern. Two-way standouts like Willie Barrett (1,265 rushing yards, 53 tackles), lineman Terry Linton and athletes Tymere and Shymere Carter have helped Anclote secure its first non-losing season in program history. A six-win year would be nice, but it’s more important for the Sharks to come away injury-free after their third contest in eight days.
4. Can upstarts Hudson and Weeki Wachee keep it up?
The Cobras and Hornets have been two of the North Suncoast’s most pleasant surprises. Hudson ended a 24-game losing streak and, despite the injury of starting quarterback Joey Caruso, has earned three wins under new coach Mark Kantor and a run game led by Noah Siegrist (656 yards). Weeki Wachee also has three wins in its first varsity season, including a victory over rival Central and a district win at Interlachen. Its future is bright behind sophomore Marcus Allen, who has accounted for seven touchdowns in the past two weeks. Games against bigger programs River Ridge and Anclote will be good chances to build for next fall.
5. How will Land O’Lakes and River Ridge finish disappointing seasons?
The Gators wanted to bounce back after having their 14-year playoff streak snapped last season. River Ridge looked to build off of a turnaround 2011 season with a postseason appearance. Though the teams have combined for only five wins, both have reasons to be optimistic about the future. Land O’Lakes is loaded with youth, including sophomores James Pensyl, Larenz Scroggins and junior Darius Wells, and ending the year with three consecutive wins would be a boost. River Ridge has made strides under second-year coach Ryan Benjamin, and a victory would remind doubters that the Royal Knights are headed in the right direction.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.