Friday's football games
All at 7:30 p.m.
Sunlake (4-1, 2-1) at Hernando (3-3, 3-0),
Breakdown: This game doesn’t have quite the appeal of last year’s 22-7 Leopards victory that helped Hernando claim the Class 6A, District 6 championship. But both teams made the playoffs last year and are in the postseason picture again this fall, despite early struggles and the rise of challengers Mitchell and Springstead.
Who’s hot: Hernando QBs Tyrail Hawkins and Ra’Shaad Hart, who both had 100-yard rushing games in last week’s 35-0 win over River Ridge. The Leopards’ defense had five players with at least one sack: Darren Hambrick, Robert Hill Bronson, O’Mar Hawkins, Richard Hudson and KD Hagood. …Sunlake QB Josh Zifer, who has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games and scored the go-ahead touchdown in last week’s 14-13 win over Nature Coast. K Connor Gilboy has nine touchbacks on 22 kickoffs this season and booted two field goals while averaging 37 yards per punt last week.
Matt Baker’s pick: Hernando has the most talent in the district but hadn’t put it together until last week. But Sunlake’s defense has improved, and the Seahawks have a speedy ground game that can give the Leopards trouble. The Seahawks get revenge by eking out a close win. Sunlake, 17-14
Derek J. LaRiviere’s pick: The Seahawks are on pace to reach the postseason; a win this week over the defending champion Leopards should cement that. Hernando is still having issues with penalties and turnovers, but with Hawkins getting more touches and Hambrick back in the swing, the Leopards have that puncher’s chance. Sunlake, 31-14
Land O’Lakes (1-4, 0-3) at Nature Coast (3-3, 2-1)
Breakdown: The Gators are reeling with their first four-game losing streak since 1995, though they’ve been within two touchdowns in their past three defeats. Land O’Lakes’ defense is strong but faces a tough test against Nature Coast and star RB Matt Breida, Tampa Bay’s No. 2 rusher (886 yards).
Who’s hot: The Sharks’ passing attack, which has thrown for 103 yards each of the last two weeks behind QBs Trevor Castro and Ryan Quigley. Nature Coast never totaled more than 67 passing yards in a game last season. …Land O’Lakes QB James Pensyl, who started in place of the injured Ethan Weilant last week and ran for two touchdowns. The Gators finished with 225 passing yards in the loss to Mitchell.
Baker: Land O’Lakes is too good to finish district play without a victory over one of the district’s top teams. But the Sharks’ defense won’t let that Gators win come this week. Nature Coast, 24-21
LaRiviere: The Gators have been in every game, but the Sharks look hungry. And if their contest with rival Springstead is going to mean anything, they will likely have to win out. Look for Breida and company to be extra motivated at home for this district tilt. Nature Coast, 27-21
Anclote (1-4, 1-2) at Zephyrhills (3-2, 3-0)
Breakdown: Aside from Pasco, no county team has as much athleticism as Anclote and Zephyrhills. The Bulldogs have a roster full of lanky speedsters, including Jaylen Pickett and Jordan Roberts. Anclote has some of its own, like brothers Tymere and Shymere Carter, and one of the county’s most talented running backs, Willie Barrett.
Who’s hot: Barrett, who had one of the best performances in school history with a 229-yard outburst in a 41-7 win over Ridgewood. QB John Forgione added three TD passes — two to Tymere Carter, and one to Shymere. …Zephyrhills QB Mike Smith, who completed three of his four passes for two touchdowns — one each by Roberts and Devin Brockington in a rain-shortened win over Gulf. The Bulldogs’ defense has allowed only 10 points in their last two games.
Baker: Anclote has the speed to hang with Zephyrhills, but it doesn’t have the experience up front and the depth just yet. The Bulldogs continue to build a solid program heading into an Oct. 26 showdown with Fivay that will likely decide a playoff spot. Zephyrhills, 28-20
LaRiviere: The Sharks are one of the more underrated programs on the North Suncoast, but the Bulldogs seem to be coming together at the right time as well with Roberts and Willie Williams leading the charge. It is going to be difficult for Anclote’s defense to stop Zephyrhills from reaching the end zone fewer than four times. Zephyrhills, 31-24
South Sumter (6-0, 2-0) at Weeki Wachee (1-4, 0-3)
Baker: Don’t be surprised if Jon King and the Hornets win a district game in their first all-varsity season. That victory won’t come against a Raiders team that’s among the best in the state and includes Florida commit Keanu Neal. South Sumter, 49-6
LaRiviere: High-powered Raiders offense should run the Hornets over. The biggest thing of note happening at Weeki Wachee on Friday night is the program’s Sack Cancer game where all supporters will be wearing pink along with the players on the field in support of breast cancer. It’s a shame it isn’t likely to result in a victory. South Sumter, 63-0
Countryside (5-1) at Wiregrass Ranch (0-5)
Baker: A shortened week of preparation only makes matters worse for John Coyne and his Wiregrass teammates in a brutal non-district game against one of Tampa Bay’s top programs. Countryside, 52-7
LaRiviere: As a top team out of Pinellas County, Countryside will be happy to square off with the young program from the North Suncoast. This could be the most lopsided result for the Bulls this season. Countryside, 56-0
Hudson (1-4, 1-2) at Pasco (5-0, 3-0)
Baker: For the fifth consecutive week, the only drama around Pasco comes from whether the state’s stingiest defense will allow a point. And for the fifth consecutive week, Joey Ivie, Morgan Flournory and the Pirates won’t. Pasco, 45-0
LaRiviere: The Pirates have been rolling and this week actually seems to get easier if that’s possible. Pasco wants to keep its shutout streak going into next week’s contest with a true contender in the district — Fivay. Pasco, 56-0
Wesley Chapel (1-4, 0-3) at Ridgewood (1-5, 1-2)
Baker: Wesley Chapel played Pasco tighter than any other team so far in last week’s rain-filled game. That confidence and a defense that’s improving behind Nalu Freticelli and Co. should lead to the Wildcats’ first district win. Wesley Chapel, 20-13
LaRiviere: Jay Fulmer might have thought he’d have made more progress at Ridgewood by this point, but the district is solid. Friday won’t be easier with Ty Tanner back under center for the Wildcats. Wesley Chapel, 24-7
River Ridge (1-4, 0-3) at Springstead (6-0, 3-0)
Baker: Only Pasco, Lakewood and Durant have allowed fewer points in Tampa Bay than Springstead (35). Luke McLeod and the Eagles are 6-0 for the first time since 2004 and are in control of their own destiny in Class 6A, District 6. River Ridge is good enough to challenge the Eagles, but coach Bill Vonada won’t let his team look ahead to next week’s showdown with Hernando. Springstead, 35-7
LaRiviere: The Eagles have been able to avoid injury while playing typical Vonada football, fundamentally sound without penalties or turnovers. The roll should continue against the struggling Royal Knights, who have inexplicably taken a step back this season despite many returning players. Springstead, 38-0
Gulf (0-5, 0-3) at Fivay (4-1, 3-0)
Baker: The Falcons are the only North Suncoast team with one of Tampa Bay’s 12 leading passers (Tyler Degen, 793 yards, 10 TDs), rushers (Davion Sutton, 769 yards, 11 TDs) and receivers (Andrew Meyer, 415 yards, 5 TDs). That’s trouble for a Gulf defense that’s allowed a county-worst 211 points. Fivay, 42-3
LaRiviere: Much like Pasco, Fivay warms up for the two teams’ big showdown next week with what could turn out to be a lopsided contest Friday night. The Falcons high-powered offense, led by Sutton, should find it easy running over the Bucs while working out some kinks. Fivay, 42-0
Central (1-5, 0-3) at Mitchell (5-1, 2-1)
Baker: If Dan Barber and the Mustangs want to prove they’re ready to make a run at their first playoff appearance since 2004, they’ll need to dominate a rebuilding Central program. And they will. Mitchell, 45-7
LaRiviere: Much like every other opponent Central has seen on the other sideline this season, the Mustangs shouldn’t have many problems Friday night. Christian Trinidad has made breaking the century mark a habit this season for Mitchell. That string should continue against a flimsy Bears defense. Mitchell, 49-0