Saturday, February 17, 2018
Sports

Adding meaning to matchups

The first three weeks of the season have been a prelude to district play. Here's a primer of the three main districts heading into tonight's games, which immediately have playoff implications.

Class 5A, District 6

Playoff picks

Pasco: Since a Week 1 loss to Sunlake, the Pirates have outscored opponents 85-7. Division I prospect Malik Johns has scored 46 points (seven touchdowns and four two-point conversions). That's more than the totals of three teams in this district.

Bushnell South Sumter: The mighty Raiders are 3-0 and have missed the playoffs only twice since 1997.

Next in line: Zephyrhills. The Bulldogs entered the season with hopes of their first playoff run since 2006, and a 3-0 start hasn't dimmed those prospects. Ty Tanner has been a welcome addition to the offense, and few teams have the speed of Jordan Roberts, Devin Brockington, Jaylen Pickett and Malik Mutcherson.

Don't count out: Hernando. The Leopards had respectable showings in tough games against Jacksonville Bolles and Citrus. Next week's game against Cocoa begins a brutal five-game stretch — highlighted by rivalry games against Nature Coast and Pasco — that will decide whether the Leopards are spoilers or contenders.

Biggest surprises

Hernando and Nature Coast faced tough nondistrict schedules, but being outscored 99-43 qualifies as surprising. So, of course, does Pasco's season-opening loss to Sunlake.

Breakout player

Central RB Robbie Bradley. With three touchdowns and around 500 rushing yards, Bradley is one of Tampa Bay's top rushers through three games. Who saw that coming from the 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior?

Class 5A, District 7

Playoff picks

Anclote: The 0-3 record is a little misleading. The Sharks' opponents are a combined 8-1. If the offensive line meshes in district play, Anclote remains the favorite for the district championship.

Hudson: The 2-1 Cobras have a better record and a slight edge over River Ridge (1-2). Zack Russell (359 all-purpose yards) and Noah Siegrist (416 rushing yards) have been two of this district's most productive players.

Don't count out: Anyone. The six-team district has no heavyweights and a combined record of 3-14. Expect plenty of parity in the coming weeks, which means one upset can drastically change playoff positioning.

Biggest surprises

River Ridge showed some mettle by knocking off upstart Wiregrass Ranch last week to win its first game of the fall. Gulf's rebound has also been a little quicker than expected. The Bucs have 27 points — two fewer than they scored all of last year — in only two games.

Breakout player

Anclote RB Trent Crawford. The shifty, speedy senior had a solid junior season. But who would have thought he'd have more rushing yards (218) than his teammate, 1,400-yard rusher Willie Barrett (209)?

Class 6A, District 6

Playoff picks

Sunlake: The Seahawks have the North Suncoast's toughest defense, a standout group of linebackers and a complementary duo of running backs (Nathan Johnson and Logan Wolfe). The first district title in school history is a legitimate possibility.

Springstead: The Eagles still have momentum and confidence after last season's district title. They're disciplined, make few mistakes and have a successful rushing attack with Tyler Mahla and Daniel Wright.

Don't count out: Mitchell, which seems to be a step above Fivay. The Mustangs have an opportunistic defense led by Josh Lamb and Larry Couch that should keep them in games and in the playoff picture.

Biggest surprise

Land O'Lakes struggled in the preseason but has recovered from rough off-the-field situations to start 3-0. The Gators have reason to think they can end their two-season playoff drought.

Breakout player

Land O'Lakes QB James Pensyl is Tampa Bay's leading passer, with 871 yards through three games. Not bad for the 6-foot-6 junior, who threw for 946 yards all of last season.

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