If the season ended today, these would be our player of the year finalists:
Tyler Mahla, Springstead: The three-year starter leads the Eagles in rushing (530 yards, seven TDs). He’s only passed for one score, but that was a biggie — a winning TD to beat Sunlake.
James Pensyl, Land O’Lakes: The 6-foot-6 lefty is 89-of-155 passing for 1,277 yards, with 10 touchdowns and only one interception. If the Gators make the playoffs, he’s on pace to break the county’s passing record (2,672), set by Pasco’s Jacob Guy. Pensyl would also join Stevie, Joe and Drew Weatherford as recent 2,000-yard passers at Land O’Lakes.
Nathan Johnson, Sunlake: The bruising junior leads the Seahawks’ offense and is on track to crush the school’s rushing record (1,058 yards). Johnson has run for 643 yards and six touchdowns.
Jordan Roberts, Zephyrhills: Take your pick from the Bulldogs’ stable of athletes, but we’ll go with Roberts, who is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns, including the game-sealing catch against Mitchell.
Malik Johns, Pasco: Don’t let his team’s hiccups obscure his success. The do-it-all senior had the Pirates’ only TD in a loss to Sunlake and is among the North Suncoast’s leaders with eight touchdowns.
Conor Ross, Springstead: The junior linebacker and elite wrestler has filled the void left by Luke McLeod. He’s first on the team in tackles (61) and sacks (four) on one of the North Suncoast’s stingiest defenses.
Shaheed Salmon, Land O’Lakes: The tenacious pass rusher leads the Gators with 51 tackles and is second with five sacks. His D has held three teams to seven points or fewer.
Ben Wood, Sunlake: The senior linebacker has bounced back from a knee injury (55 tackles, 3.5 sacks) on a defense that’s shut out three opponents.
Jeremiah Jackson, Hernando: The senior is averaging 16 tackles per game against brutal competition. But can he help turn the Leopards around quickly?
Jaye Miner, Wiregrass Ranch: The rangy junior has racked up 65 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries for the resurgent Bulls.
DeShawn Smith, Nature Coast: The sophomore rushed for two touchdowns (and 123 yards), returned a fumble for a score, rushed for a two-point conversion and ripped off a highlight-reel, game-winning run in a 29-28 win over Pasco.
Jeremiah Jackson, Hernando: His 26 tackles in a loss to Citrus set a school record, breaking one shared by former all-stater Andrew Timmons, among others.
James Pensyl, Land O’Lakes: His 23-of-36, 375-yard performance against River Ridge ranks among the best single-game passing totals in Pasco County history.
Best games left on the schedule
Oct. 18, Land O’Lakes at Sunlake: The cross-town rivalry is always fierce and will have even more importance this time. A Gators win would snap a two-game losing streak to its little brother and, more importantly, likely knock the Seahawks out of playoff contention in Class 6A, District 6. Sunlake will be the toughest defense Land O’Lakes’ high-powered offense has seen so far.
Oct. 25, River Ridge at Hudson: Depending on River Ridge’s record at this point, this game could be a major battle for position in the playoffs. Even if River Ridge wins against Anclote tonight to become the favorite for the district championship, the matchup against Hudson could offer a view of what’s coming in Class 5A, District 7’s postseason.
Nov. 1, Pasco at Zephyrhills: The Bulldogs haven’t won the 9-Mile War since 2007 and haven’t been close either (outscored 223-31). But Zephyrhills finally has the speed and athleticism to hang with Pasco, and the Bulldogs could be fighting for a playoff appearance, if it can withstand a tough schedule until then.
Nov. 1, Springstead at Land O’Lakes: Class 6A, District 6 is packed with heavy-hitters, and this game will showcase two of them. This matchup will offer a glimpse at what the postseason will have to offer, and it will pit the high-scoring Gators against a Springstead defense that has held opponents to just 52 combined points.
Now we know their names
Robbie Bradley, Central: The 5-foot-9 senior has been the North Suncoast’s breakout running back. He ranks among Tampa Bay’s leaders with almost 700 rushing yards and has been the bright spot for a Bears team trying to gain traction.
Austin Yeloushan, Sunlake: The 6-foot-2 junior linebacker had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Seahawks’ statement-making, season-opening victory over Pasco. Since then, he’s added four sacks and 39 tackles for a defense that’s allowed only 20 points.
Christian Coleman, Fivay: The 5-foot-8 junior wide receiver has shined in a tough season as a key player on Fivay’s offense. Coleman has 354 yards receiving, averaging 39 yards per game. His talent for being in the right place has also helped his stats as a cornerback, earning him 19 tackles in four games.
On the rise
Gulf: The Bucs remain stuck in a 16-game losing streak but are showing progress behind Avery Welch, Chance Belloise and others. Gulf jumped out to a lead on Zephyrhills, and put a second-half scare into Land O’Lakes last week.
Ridgewood: The Rams have one of Pasco County’s top rushers (sophomore Glass Wilson) and hung with Fivay, Mitchell and Sunlake before the games slipped away.
Hudson: The Cobras (3-1) ended a 24-game skid last fall and are very much in the playoff hunt this year. They have already equaled 2012’s win total and have rushed for 991 yards so far this season.
Tyler Wiley, Weeki Wachee: The football newbie, a 6-foot-3 defensive back/receiver, leads the Hornets with 46 tackles.
Jesse Gaudin, Hernando: The senior defensive lineman is averaging eight tackles a game. He’s recorded 3.5 sacks, too, after being shut out as a junior.
Trent Crawford, Anclote: The 5-foot-10 senior leads the Sharks in rushing yards, recording 470 in five games. He’s also averaging seven tackles per game.
DeShawn Smith, Nature Coast: The sophomore running back earned a highlight-reel mention against Pasco with a 50-yard rush for a touchdown. He’s rushed for three touchdowns and 299 yards.
Ben Perdomo, River Ridge: The 5-foot-9 running back has 21 solo tackles, aiding a defense that might pull the Royal Knights to the top of their district.
Zack Russell, Hudson: The Fivay transfer leads the team in receiving (152 yards, two TDs) and is second in rushing (202 yards, three TDs).
Fearless second-half predictions
1. Pasco will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
2. Wiregrass Ranch finally topples cross-town rival Wesley Chapel for the first time in school history.
3. A banged-up Christian Trinidad recovers to make a run at the county rushing lead for Mitchell.
4. Anclote edges Hudson and River Ridge to win the first district title in school history.
5. Playoff droughts end at River Ridge and Zephyrhills.
Photo: Sunlake's Ben Wood