Can’t miss matchups
Hernando (3-6) at Springstead (8-1)
Story line: Last season, with the district title all wrapped up for the Eagles, the team hosted county rival Nature Coast, 5-4 at the time, in the regular-season finale and suffered their first loss, 14-7. The hangover arguably carried over to the following week’s first-round loss to Vanguard. In an effort to not let history repeat itself, Springstead coach Mike Garofano has to use that game as a teaching tool for his squad. Hernando, much like the Sharks last season, will leave it all on the field with nothing to lose since they won’t be making a postseason appearance.
Matchup to watch: Springstead QB Tyler Mahla vs. Hernando’s defensive front. Mahla is a magician with the ball in the read-option offense that the Eagles employ. With 952 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, the senior does plenty of damage on his own, but the threat of him running the ball opens holes for running backs Daniel Wright and Kevin Bedford, as Land O’Lakes found out last week. Wright is coming off of a 178-yard, three-touchdown performance, has shown he can be the feature back. Led by LB Jeremiah Jackson (130 tackles), the Leopards have posted great games against solid rushing attacks from Pasco and Nature Coast.
Key players: Springstead LB Conor Ross. The Eagles’ leading tackler (110) and pass rusher has been a menace to opposing offenses since his freshman season. The two-time state-placing wrestler uses that same agility, speed and instinct to find the ball carrier. Along with DE Jesse Cowan, LB Robert Holdway and LB Juan Espinosa, Ross heads up one of the most dangerous defensive units in recent memory on the North Suncoast.
Mary Kenney’s pick: Springstead 24-7. The Leopards scored against strong defenses when they played South Sumter and Zephyrhills, but they won’t be able to catch up to Springstead’s dynamic offense.
Derek J. LaRiviere’s pick: Springstead 35-7. Preparation and focus at Eagles’ practice should be on, as those associated with the program love to say, “Winning one week at a time.” The lesson of last season should be fresh for the coaching staff. When they’re playing at 100 percent, no area team is better.
Wiregrass Ranch (3-6) at Wesley Chapel (0-9)
Story line: These schools may not have the history — but can claim the same proximity — as the 9-Mile War, but it’s still a rivalry to watch. Wiregrass Ranch has never beaten Wesley Chapel in its short existence, but has come close. The Bulls have already turned the corner this year after consecutive winless seasons, and a victory here would be the perfect capper. The Wildcats, meanwhile, hope to avoid their first season without a win.
Matchup to watch: Rookie coach vs. rookie coach. Mike Lawrence and Tico Hernandez were both Wiregrass assistants before nabbing head coaching gigs this season — Lawrence with the Bulls and Hernandez with the Wildcats.
Key players: Wiregrass junior quarterback Shane Bucenell entered this season with high expectations and met them. He’s already eclipsed 1,000 yards passing — after throwing for 650 last season. …Eric Bennett leads the Wildcats with 4.5 sacks, while fellow senior Nalu Fraticelli is averaging a team-best 10.3 tackles a game.
Kenney: Wiregrass Ranch 38-6. The Wildcats won’t be able to stop the combined rushing and passing plays of the Bulls’ offense. Look for key plays from Bucenell, John Harris-Scott and Giomani Davis.
LaRiviere: Wiregrass Ranch 42-0. A tale of two first-year coaches ends in two very different ways. Hernandez and the Wildcats may go winless for the first time in school history. Meanwhile, Lawrence has led the team to its best record since a 2010 district title.
Hudson (6-3) at Fivay (3-6)
Kenney: Hudson 35-7
LaRiviere: Hudson 35-21
Sunlake (8-1) at Zephyrhills (7-2)
Kenney: Zephyrhills 37-21
LaRiviere: Sunlake 24-21
Anclote (6-3) at Clearwater Central Catholic (7-2)
Kenney: CCC 21-17
LaRiviere: CCC 20-14
Gulf (1-8) at Mitchell (5-4)
Kenney: Mitchell 21-14
LaRiviere: Mitchell 38- 21
Land O’Lakes (7-2) at Lecanto (2-7)
Kenney: Land O’Lakes 35-6
LaRiviere: Land O’Lakes 34-13
Pasco (6-3) at River Ridge (3-6)
Kenney: Pasco 38-3
LaRiviere: Pasco 42-7
Keswick Christian (0-10) at Bishop McLaughlin (1-8)
Kenney: Bishop McLaughlin 38-35
LaRiviere: Keswick Christian 35-31
Lake Weir (1-7-1) at Nature Coast (3-6)
Kenney: Nature Coast 21-7
LaRiviere: Lake Weir 24-17