Friday’s football games are full of playoff implications.
Hernando can clinch its first district title since 1997 with a win over rival Nature Coast, which is still mathematically alive for the playoffs.
Fivay can all but seal its first trip to the playoffs with a win over Zephyrhills. But a Bulldog victory would send Zephyrhills to the postseason for the first time since 2006.
If River Ridge knocks off Sunlake this week and Land O’Lakes next week, the Royal Knights are in the playoffs.
Here are three of the games within the games that will help decide who wins Friday and whose postseason hopes fade:
Nature Coast’s linebackers vs. Hernando’s ground game: The Leopards are the North Suncoast’s top rushing offense (324 yards per game, including almost 500 in last week’s win over Springstead). They will continue to pound the ball in the battle for the 6A-6 title and Hernando County supremacy.
Just how effective will that rushing attack be against Nature Coast? The Sharks held River Ridge (four games with at least 200 rushing yards) to 63 yards. They held Mitchell (242 yards per game) to only 99 last week, thanks in part to a 10-tackle performance from Richard Hart. Nature Coast has one of the area’s best linebacker units, with Hart (67 tackles), Josh Benyola (65 tackles, four forced fumbles) and Joey Berrios (90 tackles, 11 for a loss).
But they haven’t seen a team like Hernando, which boasts a strong line to go with speedy slasher Tyrail Hawkins and bruising runners Jeremiah Jackson and Marqui Redding.
Zephyrhills QB Jamal Roberts vs. Fivay’s defense: Pasco’s speed and athleticism ripped apart Fivay’s defense last week. The Pirates shredded the Falcons for more than 13 yards per rush and scored 59 points — only 14 fewer than Fivay had allowed all season.
No one in the area has the firepower of Pasco, but Roberts will pose another tough challenge for Fivay. The Bulldogs’ 5-foot-10 senior is one of the quickest athletes in the county and is 49 yards from a 1,000-yard season. He’s dangerous with his legs (18 touchdowns) but can beat teams with his arm if they devote too much attention to stopping the run (five touchdown passes).
Brice Sesler (73 tackles) and Andrew Meyer (three interceptions) will be among those charged with containing Roberts in a must-win game for Fivay in 5A-6.
Sunlake’s line vs. River Ridge’s hitters: The Seahawks’ offensive line is big, physical and perhaps the county’s best behind center Nate McCoole. It opened up enough holes for Rashaud Daniels, Jerome Samuels and Mike Lopez to knock off Land O’Lakes last week.
River Ridge isn’t huge, but the Royal Knights fly to the ball. Kyle Bartlett (21 tackles against Springstead) and Malik Moore lead a quick linebacker corps, while defensive end Austin Schwarz remains one of his team’s most valuable players.
Sunlake saw a similar defense a few games ago. Hernando isn’t enormous, but the Leopards run and hit hard — like River Ridge — and smacked the Seahawks with their first and only loss of the year. If Sunlake wants to secure its first trip to the playoffs, its line will need to avoid a repeat performance of the Hernando game.