TAMPA — When Alonso High School lost its regular-season finale last year to Sickles on a last-second kick, it didn't just end the Ravens' football season on a down note. It also kept the team out of the playoffs.
For a program that was quickly becoming accustomed to reaching the postseason, it was a serious blow.
Fast-forward to this season: The Ravens don't have to worry about missing out on a playoff spot to Sickles.
Alonso is 6-1 and takes on front-runner Chamberlain (7-0) tonight in a game that likely will determine the Class 5A, District 6 champion. It also likely will determine which team will start the playoffs on the road.
Alonso's C.J. Bennett has emerged as one of the county's best passers this season. He has thrown for more than 1,600 yards and has 20 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Bennett and his stable of receivers will pose the biggest passing threat the Chamberlain defense has faced all year.
The unbeaten Chiefs will counter with a potent offense. Chamberlain has only been held under 22 points once this season and has scored more than 40 points four times this year.
In other key district matchups, Gaither and Wesley Chapel square off, along with Wharton and Mitchell. How the Hillsborough County teams fare in Pasco will shape the Class 5A, District 6 race. Also, Leto hosts Plant (without injured quarterback Aaron Murray), Jefferson tries to rebound at Blake and Freedom plays at 4A-11 foe Middleton.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Gaither (3-4) at Wesley Chapel (3-4)
Last Week: Gaither lost to Alonso 34-24; Wesley Chapel beat Sunlake 35-13.
Last Year: Gaither defeated Wesley Chapel 34-9.
The Skinny: Injuries and inconsistency have plagued the Cowboys all season. Still, a win tonight would go a long way toward the Cowboys securing one of the two playoff spots in Class 5A, District 5. But the exact same could be said for Wesley Chapel.
The Edge: Home-field advantage will help the Wildcats, but not enough. Gaither in a squeaker.
Wharton (5-2) at Mitchell (4-2)
Last Week: Wharton beat Middleton 42-35; Mitchell defeated Ridgewood 16-13.
Last Year: Wharton beat Mitchell 27-14.
The Skinny: After opening the season with two losses, Wharton has put together a five-game winning streak and appears to be the team to beat in 5A-5. Mitchell, meanwhile, may be the most improved team in the district. Wharton's defense will have to corral Mustangs running back Ricky Trinidad, who ran for 170 yards last week.
The Edge: This could be an offensive game, which favors a Wharton team that has rung up 28 points or more four times during its winning streak.
King (2-4) at Sickles (1-6)
Last Week: King beat Robinson 14-7; Sickles lost to Spoto 34-14.
Last Year: Sickles beat King 17-3.
The Skinny: King broke a four-game losing streak with its win last week. For Sickles, the memory of last year's dream playoff run has faded. The struggling Gryphons have lost their past two games by a margin of 90-23.
The Edge: With the season winding down, chances for victories are slipping away. The Gryphons will take advantage of that and top the Lions.
Chamberlain (7-0) at Alonso (6-1)
Last Week: Chamberlain defeated Jefferson 42-21; Alonso beat Gaither 34-24.
Last Year: Chamberlain topped Alonso 41-0.
The Skinny: Alonso hasn't lost since Sept. 12. Chamberlain, meanwhile, hasn't lost a regular season game since Oct. 26, 2007. The Chiefs, who gave coach Billy Turner his 200th career win at the school last week, may be without running back Kenny Allen, who was ejected from last week's game against Jefferson. His status is undetermined for the Alonso game. Also, former Chamberlain wide receiver Ed Williams debuted with Alonso last week, catching three touchdown passes.
The Edge: The Chiefs without Allen certainly even things out, but the real difference will be the defenses. And Chamberlain's is a little better. Chiefs win.
Jefferson (3-3) at Blake (1-6)
Last Week: Jefferson lost to Chamberlain 42-21; Blake defeated Brandon 14-0.
Last Year: Jefferson beat Blake 40-0.
The Skinny: Injuries have slowed the Jefferson secondary, which could help Blake's running game. The Yellow Jackets got 138 yards and a touchdown last week from running back Robert Wilson. Meanwhile, Jefferson sophomore quarterback Quentin Williams has continued his strong play.
The Edge: Blake may be able to move the ball somewhat but won't have an answer for the Jefferson offense. Dragons win big.
Plant (5-1) at Leto (2-5)
Last Week: Plant defeated Hillsborough 44-28; Leto lost to Bloomingdale 20-13.
Last Year: Plant defeated Leto 54-7.
The Skinny: Plant suffered a tremendous blow to its state title hopes last week when standout quarterback Aaron Murray went down with a broken leg. Murray is out for the season, leaving sophomore Phillip Ely to run the offense. Leto, which has one win in its past six games, got an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week by Antwoun Howard.
The Edge: The Murray loss is a season-changer, but not this week. Plant still wins.
Freedom (1-5) at Middleton (2-4)
Last Week: Freedom lost to Durant 24-21; Middleton lost to Wharton 42-35.
Last Year: Middleton beat Freedom 35-10.
The Skinny: Three of Freedom's losses have been by a total of seven points. And after its impressive opening-night win against Wharton, Freedom has dropped five games in a row. Middleton, meanwhile, has disappointed as well and is already well behind leaders Hillsborough and Armwood in the 4A-11 district race.
The Edge: Playing for pride, Middleton puts together a solid performance to top the Patriots.