MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
All games Friday at 7:30.
Citra North Marion (5-5) at Pasco (10-0)
Winner gets: Anclote/Gainesville Eastside winner in the Class 5A region semifinals
Playoff history: The perennial powers have met in the postseason twice before. Pasco earned a 13-12 win at home in the 2008 region finals and used a last-second field goal from Brandon Ray to steal a 31-28 victory in last year’s region semifinals.
About North Marion: The Colts are in the playoffs for the 13th year in a row but have their worst record since 2004. Sophomore James Allen has rushed for 953 yards and averages almost 9 yards per carry to lead a solid run game. North Marion’s offense has struggled at times, scoring only 264 points this fall and being held to single digits against Ocala Vanguard and Jacksonville Bolles. DB/WR Reggie Wilkerson is one of the state’s top prospects and has orally committed to Georgia.
Who’s hot: Pasco’s defense, which had four interceptions last week — one each by Brandon Ray, Janarion Grant, Brandon Debyah and Nate Craig-Myers — and a fumble recovery by UF commit Joey Ivie. Morgan Flournory added three sacks to boost his season total to 14.5. Grant has accounted for 16 touchdowns in four games since returning from a hand injury and reminded scouts why he’s one of Tampa Bay’s most electric talents.
Matt Baker’s pick: We’ll find out in the next two weeks if this Pasco team is as good as last year’s. But it’s clear North Marion isn’t as strong as it was in 2011, and the Pirates will take advantage. Pasco, 35-17
Derek J. LaRiviere’s pick: This is where Grant separates himself from the pack when it comes to the Player of the Year discussion. After missing a chunk of the season, he has made a home in the end zone. Grant should hit pay dirt at least three times. Pasco, 38-28
Hernando (6-4) at Gainesville (10-0)
Winner gets: Springstead/Ocala Vanguard winner in the Class 6A region semifinals
Playoff history: Hernando is making its third consecutive postseason appearance and will look for its first playoff victory since 1997. The teams met in 2011’s region quarterfinals in Brooksville. The Leopards led most of the way before Gainesville scored in the closing minutes to escape with a 20-14 win.
About Gainesville: The loaded Hurricanes are ranked first in Class 6A and have dominated all fall, outscoring opponents 405-127 with wins over Yulee, Lake City Columbia and Madison County. RB Tony James is one of the country’s top juniors with offers from UF, FSU and Miami, among others. He and another D-I recruit, Ralph Webb, are part of a ground game that rushed for 300 yards against Madison County and Ocala Vanguard. Don’t forget about WR Chris Thompson, a UF commit and a three-star prospect.
Who’s hot: Hernando LB Jeremiah Jackson, who returned an interception for a score and tallied 13 tackles against Mitchell in the regular-season finale. DE Robert Hill Bronson tallied 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks in his past four games. ATH Tyrail Hawkins rushed for 113 yards and a score against Mitchell, breaking a drought of four games without 100 yards.
Baker: Hernando has more talent than anyone on the North Suncoast outside of Dade City, but the Leopards haven’t put a complete game together yet. They will tonight — but it won’t be quite enough against one of the state’s best teams. Gainesville, 31-13
LaRiviere: A solid passing attack is the Hernando defense’s kryptonite. If the Leopards are going to stay within striking distance, they will need to see game-breaking touches from Ra’shaad Hart and Hawkins. Gainesville, 45-14
Ocala Vanguard (5-5) at Springstead (9-1)
Winner gets: Gainesville/Hernando winner in the Class 6A region semifinals
Playoff history: Springstead is making its second appearance since 2005 and made the region semifinals in 2010. The Eagles have never won a playoff game at home. The Knights lost at home to Sunlake 22-21 last fall and were beaten by Land O’Lakes in 2002.
About Vanguard: The Knights are back in the postseason for the fourth year in a row and are better than their record suggests. They knocked off Citra North Marion and lost to Lake City Columbia by only eight points. Vanguard’s key is a defense that’s allowed fewer than seven points four times this fall. Kyle Sandner leads the way with 130 tackles. QB Adam Robles has thrown for 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns, including a school-record six last week.
Who’s hot: Springstead’s defense, which allowed more than seven points only twice all fall. Kickoff returner Latavious Hannah averaged 31 yards per return against Nature Coast and has racked up more than 500 all-purpose yards. QB Tyler Mahla has rushed for 100 yards in his past two games, and RB Daniel Wright has had a breakout sophomore season, running for nine scores.
Baker: Springstead has proven this year that it won’t beat itself. And Vanguard is strong, but not powerful enough to beat the Eagles at home. Springstead’s home winless streak in the postseason ends behind a big night from Luke McLeod and the defense. Springstead, 28-24
LaRiviere: Springstead will rest on its stellar defense. With two weeks to prepare for this one, coach Bill Vonada should have the troops prepared. If Mahla can take care of the football on offense, this contest should be the Eagles’ for the taking. Springstead, 30-17