Sunlake (3-0) at Springstead (2-1)
Story line: The Class 6A, District 6 opener for both teams is a big one. With Hernando out of this district, these two programs are the presumptive favorites. That means this mid-September matchup could end up deciding the district championship and playoff positioning.
Matchup to watch: Sunlake’s defense against Springstead’s offense. The Seahawks have become one of Tampa Bay’s most dominant defenses, allowing only 106 yards of offense per game. Zion Osborn (six sacks) leads a unit that still hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown. Springstead’s run-heavy offense has sputtered at times this fall but has the potential to churn out long touchdown drives and take advantage of any Sunlake breakdown.
Matt Baker: Expect lots of runs and little scoring. Both defenses are strong, but Springstead doesn’t have a back with the power of Sunlake’s Nathan Johnson. He’ll be the difference. Sunlake, 14-10
Derek J. LaRiviere: As good as last week’s win over Nature Coast felt, this is the game that Mike Garofano has been looking forward to in his first season as Springstead coach. Squaring off with the most experienced coach on the North Suncoast in Bill Browning, Garofano has his work cut out for him in the Eagles’ district opener. Sunlake, 24-21
Zephyrhills (3-0) at South Sumter (3-0)
Story line: Zephyrhills gets the first crack at the Bushnell heavyweight and new Class 5A, District 6 foe. The Bulldogs have been sloppy but squeaked through to their best start in seven seasons. Zephyrhills has legitimate playoff hopes, and a win over the Raiders would have the Bulldogs on track for the postseason — and maybe a district championship.
Matchup to watch: Big plays. They remain a staple of Zephyrhills’ offensive stable — like Jordan Roberts’ 30-yard touchdown catch in last week’s 17-9 win over Mitchell. The Raiders can score quickly, too. South Sumter’s first touchdown last week came on an 80-yard rush, and the Raiders have outscored opponents 142-14 through three games.
Baker: Zephyrhills is a strong team. It’d be even stronger if it could avoid making so many silly mistakes, like bobbled snaps and costly penalties. The Raiders will take advantage of those to slow down Zephyrhills’ torrid start. South Sumter, 35-21
LaRiviere: The Raiders, along with Pasco, are the preemptive district favorites, but the one thing we’ve learned in the first few weeks is that the Bulldogs are going to make a run. It just seems like South Sumter’s winning culture will be too much to overcome in Bushnell the first time out. South Sumter, 42-28
Land O’Lakes (3-0) at Mitchell (2-1)
Story line: With Class 6A, District 6 being tough from top to bottom, the winner here gets a leg up in the playoff race. A loss doesn’t end that team’s hopes, but the postseason is a tougher objective.
Matchup to watch: Mitchell’s offense vs. Land O’Lakes’ defense. The Mustangs finished with only 162 yards of offense last week against Zephyrhills, and their only touchdown came on a fumble recovery. Land O’Lakes has a good secondary and a strong pass rush — there’s a reason the Gators have only allowed two touchdowns.
Baker: Land O’Lakes QB James Pensyl has been one of Tampa Bay’s most prolific players. He’ll get the ball to his playmakers enough to keep the Gators unbeaten and atop the district. Land O’Lakes, 21-14
LaRiviere: Gators coach Brian Wachtel is working the same magic with his current team that he once worked with Mitchell. Facing off with his former program, don’t expect the Gators to suffer their first loss of the year. Pensyl should continue his red-hot passing on the way to another win. Land O’Lakes, 31-21
Hernando (0-2) at Weeki Wachee (1-2)
Baker: Remember, Hernando was 0-3 last year after a tough non-district schedule but recovered to make the playoffs. This season’s slow start ends against a new county opponent. Hernando, 35-14
LaRiviere: Leopard fans are just happy to welcome an opponent that isn’t state-ranked. Who knew that the district schedule would make things easier on Hernando? In the first meeting between these county foes, look for Ra’shaad Hart to have a big game. Hernando, 42-14
Gulf (0-2) at River Ridge (1-2)
Baker: River Ridge, 28-10
LaRiviere: River Ridge, 31-28
Anclote (0-3) at Ridgewood (0-3)
Baker: Anclote, 28-6
LaRiviere: Anclote, 28-7
Central (0-3) at Nature Coast (0-2)
Baker: Nature Coast, 35-7
LaRiviere: Nature Coast, 31-0
Lecanto (2-1) at Fivay (1-1)
Baker: Fivay, 21-17
LaRiviere: Fivay, 24-14
Hudson (2-1) at Wesley Chapel (0-3)
Baker: Hudson, 21-14
LaRiviere: Hudson, 28-7
Frostproof (3-0) at Bishop McLaughlin (1-2)
Baker: Frostproof, 28-14
LaRiviere: Frostproof, 35-21
Wiregrass Ranch (2-1) at Tampa Bay Tech (1-1)
Baker: TBT, 42-17
LaRiviere: TBT, 49-10