Zephyrhills (4-1, 1-1) at Nature Coast (2-3, 2-1)
Story line: Nature Coast is coming off a surprising loss to Class 5A, District 6 foe Hernando, but don’t count out the Sharks just yet. Their upset of Pasco two weeks ago proves they can come from behind to win. One of the key factors tonight will be the health of the players, particularly for NCT. Running back DeShawn Smith injured his knee against Pasco and was limited most of last week. Coach Charles Liggett said his players know how to keep going when they’re sore, but it’s unclear if, or how much, Smith will play tonight. Without him, the Sharks offense will be hindered against the high-scoring Bulldogs.
Matchup to watch: Nature Coast’s rushing attack vs. Zephyrhills’ defense. The Bulldogs have kept opponents to a combined 57 points, but Smith, who has rushed for 309 yards and three touchdowns, might see holes in a defensive line other opponents have missed. If Smith doesn’t play, watch for Christian Maner (281 yards, three touchdowns), to pick up the slack. Maner scored against Pasco and Hernando, proving he can break through a powerful defense.
Mary Kenney’s pick: Zephyrhills, 35-14. The Bulldogs’ strong defense should be enough to stop the Sharks, especially if Smith is out of the picture. If he is able to play, Zephyrhills will need its playmakers sharp to drive up the score.
Derek J. LaRiviere’s pick: Zephyrhills, 28-24. The health of Smith will be so important to Nature Coast. The Sharks’ offensive diversity is night and day without him on the field for at least 20 snaps. This will be a similar game to the previous two weeks for Nature Coast, hard fought and down to the wire for the home team and the Bulldogs.
Hudson (4-1) at Land O’Lakes (5-0)
Story line: After a successful first half of the season, a series of tough opponents, starting with Land O’Lakes, will finally test the Cobras. With James Pensyl at the helm, the Gators have combined a smooth, high-scoring passing game and a solid defensive line to sail to an undefeated season. Hudson fell to Wiregrass Ranch’s rushing attack earlier this season, and it’s unlikely the Gators’ passing attack will be much kinder to them.
Matchup to watch: Land O’Lakes’ passing game vs. Hudson’s defensive line. If Shaun Michael or Zack Russell can get into position, they’ll have a chance to stop leading rusher Larenz Scroggins from dominating the scoreboard. But can they bottle up the Gator receivers? Pensyl, who has thrown for a bay area-best 1,277 yards this season, has five receivers with more than 100 yards each. With multiple targets at his disposal, expect him to surprise the Cobras, who thrive in low-scoring games.
Kenney: Land O’Lakes, 35-14. The Cobras won’t be able to overcome a balanced Land O’Lakes offense, but they may be able to break through the defense long enough to keep the game close.
LaRiviere: Land O’Lakes, 24-17. The Cobras have one of the closest groups of players and coaches in the area, and that bond has pushed them into contenders, but they haven’t played a passing attack like they will face tonight. It’s hard to prepare for Pensyl.
Hernando (2-3, 2-0) at South Sumter (6-0, 3-0)
Story line: Hernando is coming off of an upset win over Nature Coast, beating the Sharks at their own game with defense and a strong running game. The Leopards are undefeated in Class 5A, District 6 and poised for a postseason run, but South Sumter is running away with the district crown. The Raiders are averaging 48 points per game while boasting a defense that is surrendering only seven. Hernando QB Tyler Kline has progressed well over the first five games, but will be needed tonight more than ever. South Sumter coach Inman Sherman, heading up the program for three decades, will be sitting on the Hernando running game.
Matchup to watch: South Sumter’s running game vs. Hernando’s defensive front. LB Jeremiah Jackson had 132 tackles as a junior and is on pace to break that mark this season (67). He was a key cog in last week’s victory, but will need help stopping Raiders tailbacks Anderson Faulk and J.T. Taylor. The South Sumter running game has torched every opponent. Jesse Gaudin, Justin Roberts, Steven Delaine and Co. will have to be very active against an experienced Raiders offensive line that includes three seniors.
Kenney: South Sumter, 38-3. No one has been able to topple the Raiders this year, and the Leopards won’t be the team to do it. South Sumter’s defense will stop Kline, and attempts to run the ball will fall flat.
LaRiviere: South Sumter, 42-7. The Raiders have shown they are head and shoulders above district opponents. Hernando has talent and ability individually, but South Sumter’s depth on both sides of the ball will prove too much in the end.
Pasco (2-3, 0-2) at Weeki Wachee (2-4, 1-2)
Kenney: Pasco, 35-6
LaRiviere: Pasco, 42-7
Wesley Chapel (0-5) at Sunlake (5-1)
Kenney: Sunlake, 27-7
LaRiviere: Sunlake, 35-0
Ridgewood (1-5) at Wiregrass Ranch (2-3)
Kenney: Wiregrass Ranch, 17-14
LaRiviere: Wiregrass Ranch, 21-20
Lecanto (2-3) at Mitchell (3-3)
Kenney: Mitchell, 24-21
LaRiviere: Mitchell, 24-13
Gulf (0-5) at Fivay (2-3)
Kenney: Fivay, 35-7
LaRiviere: Fivay, 21-7
Central (0-6) at Springstead (5-1)
Kenney: Springstead, 35-0
LaRiviere: Springstead, 42-0
Bishop McLaughlin (1-4) at Shorecrest Prep (1-3)
Kenney: Bishop McLaughlin, 21-17
LaRiviere: Shorecrest, 35-14