Class 6A: Citrus (9-1) at Springstead (9-1)
Next opponent: Sunlake or Gainesville
Story line: With back-to-back district titles for the first time, the Eagles are looking to do something they’ve never done: win a playoff game at home. Springstead is 0-4 lifetime at Booster Stadium.
Key stats: In Week 1 at Citrus, the Eagles surrendered 232 yards and four touchdowns from four rushers in a 42-14 loss. And that was with a healthy Conor Ross (team-high 114 tackles, four forced fumbles); he tore his left ACL in a Week 9 win at Land O’Lakes. Now with Austin Stock taking Ross’s spot at middle linebacker, Springstead has the tall order of stopping an offense that gained 2,534 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground.
Key players: After rushing for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Hernando, Springstead’s Daniel Wright now has 913 yards and could join quarterback Tyler Mahla (1,012 yards) as the first teammates to break the 1,000-yard mark in the same year.
Did you know? Citrus last advanced to regionals in 2006; the Hurricanes are 3-11 in the playoffs dating to 1973. Springstead is 2-6, seeing its last win in 2010 against Wiregrass Ranch (40-8).
Mary Kenney’s pick: Citrus 24-21. The Hurricanes dominated both sides of the ball against all but one opponent this season. Neither side will find it quite as easy to score this time, but with James Pouncey leading the Citrus offense, the Hurricanes should eke out a win.
Derek J. LaRiviere’s pick: Springstead 21-20. The Eagles started very slow on the road in Week 1, but still forced four of the eight turnovers that the Hurricane offense relinquished this season. A better start will keep an experienced Springstead team in the game, and the home field should push them over the top.
Class 6A: Sunlake (9-1) at Gainesville (8-2)
Next opponent: Citrus or Springstead
Story line: This is Sunlake’s second playoff appearance in three years. This makes five straight postseasons for Gainesville.
Key stat: Both defenses have made impacts this season. Sunlake has allowed just 61 points while averaging 67 tackles per game. Gainesville, which averages 106.8 tackles, boasts an impressive sack master in sophomore Jordan Giberti (13.5).
Key players: Sunlake’s Nathan Johnson has more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Gainesville’s Tony James, an Oregon commit with 1,119 yards and nine TDs, will test a Sunlake defense that forced four shutouts.
Did you know? Gainesville knocked the Seahawks out of the playoffs in 2011, winning 21-14.
Kenney: Gainesville 28-21. Every time the Hurricanes have won this season, they’ve held opponents to 14 points or fewer. Johnson will carry the Seahawks a little further, but it won’t quite be enough.
LaRiviere: Gainesville 24-14. Former Hernando defensive coordinator Mark Latsko is familiar with the Seahawks, and that advantage should help the Hurricanes advance to the second round a fifth straight season.
Class 5A: Pasco (7-3) at Citra North Marion (8-2)
Next opponent: Suwanee or South Sumter
Story line: Neither team is a stranger to postseason play. This is Pasco’s seventh consecutive playoff appearance and North Marion’s 14th.
Key stat: North Marion averaged 18 yards per carry against Belleview to clinch the district championship. If the Colts can combine a defense that has held every opponent except Bolles to 20 points or fewer with a powerful rushing game, it could finally unseat the Pirates.
Key players: Malik Johns, another member of the 1,000-plus rushing club (with 14 TDs via the ground), will be crucial against a tough North Marion defense. Look for Jaquan Clower (619 yards, five TDs) to help him keep Pasco’s postseason hopes alive. … Linebacker De’Amonte Jackson (100-plus tackles) leads a staunch North Marion defense.
Did you know? Pasco and North Marion have faced off in the postseason three times since 2008, and the Pirates have won each time, including last year’s 34-10 first-round victory.
Kenney: Pasco 21-18. The Pirates rallied from a sluggish start to prove they’re still the county team to beat. North Marion simply won’t be able to contain Johns and Clower.
LaRiviere: North Marion 31-14. The Pirates scratched and clawed their way into this matchup, but the road will likely end in Citra as the Colts defense forces Pasco to be one-dimensional with a stud defense that is surrendering only 15 points per game.
Class 5A: Tarpon Springs (6-4) at Anclote (6-4)
Next opponent: Hudson or Lakewood
Story line: Although in separate counties, these teams are right next door to each other. And this is the second meeting this season, if you count the Spongers’ 28-3 victory in the preseason. In that matchup, Tarpon Springs negated Anclote’s ground attack to the tune of minus-13 yards.
Key stat: Tarpon Springs throws the ball about 10 times per game; Anclote averages 12. Obviously, the running game will be key for both teams, which are almost even with right around 2,500 yards each.
Key players: Tarpon Springs running back Michael Ford has 1,222 yards and 16 touchdowns on 181 carries while athlete Montel Johnson boasts 1,373 all-purpose yards as a running back, receiver and kick returner. … Watch for Anclote’s running back duo of Trent Crawford (123 carries, 995 yards, eight touchdowns) and Willie Barrett (129 carries, 1,062 yards, nine touchdowns; 92 tackles) to make some noise.
Did you know? The Spongers have scored 130 points in their past two games. Their 67 points against Boca Ciega were the most by any Pinellas team this season. … The Sharks started the season 0-3 then reeled off six straight victories and went 5-0 in Class 5A, District 7.
Kenney: Tarpon Springs 35-14. Anclote simply won’t be able to stop the Spongers’ high-powered offense.
LaRiviere: Tarpon Springs 17-14. Barrett and Crawford will make things difficult for Tarpon, but the Spongers should squeak through.
Class 5A: Hudson (6-4) at Lakewood (7-3)
Next opponent: Tarpon Springs or Anclote
Story line: Hudson won only four games in the past three seasons combined prior to making the playoffs this season. Lakewood is in the playoffs a second straight season. The Cobras are happy to be in the postseason; the Spartans expected it.
Key stats: Lakewood has not given up more than 23 points in a game this season. …Hudson’s 2,229 rushing yards are the most by a Cobras team since 2005.
Key players: Lakewood’s Donterio Fowler has amped up his ground game recently (800 yards, nine TDs) and also has a kickoff return and is a punt return threat. Jocqui Ellison is a threat to throw, run and catch, and has more than 500 yards receiving and rushing). …Hudson’s Noah Siegrist anchors the ground game (217 carries, 1,302 yards, 11 TDs), while quarterback Joey Caruso (72-of-134, 963 yards passing, seven TDs) is also a threat to run, with eight rushing TDs.
Did you know? Lakewood has produced several NFL players, but its playoff history is not great. The Spartans are 3-14 all time in playoff games dating to 1980. Hudson is 2-4 all-time in the playoffs, with both wins coming in 2005.
Kenney: Lakewood 35-7. Hudson’s turnaround is impressive, and the Cobras could build one of the county’s most powerful programs over the next few years. They’re not there yet, though.
LaRiviere: Lakewood 49-7. The Cobras have made big strides in the two seasons since Mark Kantor took over, but the Spartans are a powerhouse that will make Hudson’s first postseason appearance since 2009 a rough one.