Can’t miss matchups
Pasco (5-3, 3-2) at Zephyrhills (7-1, 4-1)
Story line: The 9-Mile War rivalry dates to 1941, and tonight’s game is bigger than ever. The winner will seal the final playoff spot in Class 5A, District 6. If Zephyrhills wins, it will be the first time the Bulldogs have played in the postseason since 2006. It would also be the first time since 2006 that the Pirates have not made the playoffs. If Pasco wins, the Pirates will prove they can come back from a disappointing season to continue a proud football tradition. Either way, Zephyrhills coach Reggie Roberts has shown that the Bulldogs have built a powerful program.
Matchup to watch: Zephyrhills’ offensive line vs. Pasco’s defense. The Pirates kept opponents to a combined 19 points in the past three games, but they haven’t faced a running game that features Jaylen Pickett. Don’t count out the Bulldogs’ passing game, either. The combination of rushing and passing plays could be enough to upset the Pirates, who faltered early in the season against a similarly powerful offensive line at Sunlake.
Key players: Quarterback Ty Tanner. Tanner has 373 passing yards, giving the Bulldogs enough flexibility in offensive plays if the ground game is stymied to potentially surprise the Pirates. The junior has six touchdowns, scoring in each of the past four games. Pasco’s defense has not fared well against high-scoring teams such as South Sumter and Sunlake, and the Bulldogs will look to continue this narrative.
Mary Kenney’s pick: Zephyrhills, 35-21. The Pirates have faltered against powerful running games this season, and the Bulldogs should seize on that opportunity. Pasco dominated the last three weeks, but this should look more like their matchup against South Sumter, which doesn’t bode well for the Pirates.
Derek J. LaRiviere’s pick: Zephyrhills, 31-28. The Bulldog offense is very potent. At home last week, the way Zephyrhills opened up in the second half on Hernando, a team that the Pirates scored just seven points against, showed just how explosive Devon Brockington, Pickett and Co. are.
Springstead (7-1, 3-0) at Land O’Lakes (7-1, 2-1)
Story line: A Springstead victory will clinch a second straight district title for the Eagles and give Mike Garofano the 6A-6 district championship in his first season. The task will not be easy, as the Gators have been resurgent this season, one year after finishing a disappointing 4-6. A Land O’Lakes victory could create a three-way tie in the district between Sunlake (should the Seahawks defeat Fivay tonight) and these two teams. Losing would leave the Gators, who were undefeated just two weeks ago, at home for the playoffs.
Matchup to watch: Land O’Lakes QB James Pensyl vs. Springstead’s secondary. No one has gone as far as to say that there is a blueprint to shut down the North Suncoast’s most dominant passing game, but Pensyl did not have nearly the same success in back-to-back games against Sunlake and Hudson (120 yards per game, 52 completion percentage) as he’s had the rest of the season (253 yards per game, 58 completion percentage). Many consider Springstead the best defense in the area, and the Eagles will be challenged to limit Pensyl from racking up yardage downfield.
Key players: Springstead QB Tyler Mahla. As is always the case, Mahla will be the backbone of the Eagles’ offense. His command of Springstead’s read-option attack is at an expert level. With 925 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns combined with 511 yards passing and two touchdowns, he is dangerous whenever the ball is in his hands. Running backs Daniel Wright (609 yards, four touchdowns, 5.3 yards per carry) and Kevin Bedford (297 yards, three touchdowns, 7.8 yards per carry) add a thunder-and-lightning aspect to the backfield when Mahla does choose to hand off or pitch the ball.
Kenney: Springstead, 28-17. When the Gators faltered against Sunlake two weeks ago, it was due in part to the Seahawks’ shutdown of the passing game. Expect the Springstead matchup to be a repeat performance. If Mahla can control the field, and the season up until now shows that he can, the Gators won’t be able to keep up.
LaRiviere: Springstead 27-21. The difference will come in the Eagles’ front seven. Expect Conor Ross to find his way into the Gators’ backfield all night to harass Pensyl, making life tough on the field general. Mahla will run ball control as Springstead frustrates Land O’Lakes, clinching the district title.
Bishop McLaughlin (1-7, 0-4) at Tampa Catholic (7-1, 4-0)
Kenney: Tampa Catholic 42-3
LaRiviere: Tampa Catholic 52-0
Nature Coast (2-6, 2-3) at Weeki Wachee (3-6, 1-4)
Kenney: Nature Coast 21-10
LaRiviere: Nature Coast 21-13
Wiregrass Ranch (3-5, 0-4) at Freedom (1-7, 0-4)
Kenney: Wiregrass Ranch 24-17
LaRiviere: Freedom 21- 17
Ridgewood (2-7, 2-2) at River Ridge (3-5, 2-2)
Kenney: Ridgewood 24-21
LaRiviere: River Ridge 38-20
Sunlake (7-1, 2-1) at Fivay (3-5, 0-3)
Kenney: Sunlake 21-7
LaRiviere: Sunlake 35-14
Hudson (6-2, 4-0) at Anclote (5-3, 4-0)
Kenney: Anclote 24-21
LaRiviere: Hudson 27-17
Central (0-9, 0-5) at Hernando (2-6, 2-3)
Kenney: Hernando 20-7
LaRiviere: Hernando 31-10
Wesley Chapel (0-8, 0-4) at Gulf (0-8, 0-4)
Kenney: Gulf 35-21
LaRiviere: Gulf 45-28