The regular season is over, most of the area teams have officially become spectators and there's only one thing left: playoff time.
Plant City and Newsome look to improve on first-round exits from a year ago while Brandon surprised everyone and returned to the postseason for the first time in three years.
And then there's Armwood. News flash — the Hawks are good. Armwood provides the best chance of all remaining area teams to capture a state title, and the Hawks are loaded.
Plant City (6-4) at Plant (8-2)
At Stake: The winner plays the winner of the Alonso/Newsome game next Friday.
Last Playoff Appearance: Plant defeated the Raiders 59-14 in last season's playoff opener.
Player To Watch: Dazmond Patterson, Plant City. As Patterson goes, so goes the Raiders. The multithreat tailback is equally dangerous on the ground or through the air.
Quick Count: Plant City was on the wrong end of a 63-21 whupping last week against Jefferson to close out the regular season. The Dragons left their starters in until nearly the end of the game in order to run up the score and break the record. It will be interesting to see how the Raiders respond tonight against a beatable Plant team. Plant City will need to take care of the football and control the clock, but a Raiders' win isn't out of the question and expect a much closer game than last season's playoff meeting.
Alonso (4-6) at Newsome (7-3)
At Stake: The winner plays the winner of the Plant City/Plant game next Friday.
Last Playoff Appearance: The Wolves fell to Alonso 47-37 in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.
Player To Watch: Conner Powers, Newsome. Powers is the team's workhorse, and his broad shoulders again topped the 1,000 yard plateau, rushing for 1,530 and 23 touchdowns. Powers ran for at least 100 yards in nine of the Wolves' 10 games this year, including a season-high 258 against Bloomingdale.
Quick Count: After losing its first two games, Newsome went on to win seven of its next eight to capture the district title for the second consecutive season. All three of Newsome's losses have been to county powerhouses: Armwood, Jefferson and Robinson. The Wolves should also be well-rested after last week's bye. Newsome also finished the season strong offensively, scoring at least 56 points in three of the final four games.
Brandon (9-1) at Countryside (10-0)
At Stake: The winner plays the winner of the Tampa Bay Tech/East Lake game next Friday.
Last Playoff Appearance: Visiting Lakeland defeated the Eagles 31-17 in the 2007 region quarterfinals.
Player To Watch: Darius Lee, Brandon. Lee presents the most dangerous offensive threat for the Eagles. He is an explosive runner who shifts gears and can reach top speed with any back in the county. Lee is a threat from anywhere on the field, and Brandon will need him to be special tonight if they want to come home with a win.
Quick Count: This sets up as the area's best matchup in the first round of the playoffs. Heck, this very well might be the best region quarterfinal game in the state. Brandon's lone loss this season came against district champ Tampa Bay Tech, which means they had to go on the road against an undefeated Countryside team. This truly is a matchup of magical seasons. Countryside went undefeated for the first time in school history while Brandon rebounded from a dismal 3-7 season in 2009.
Sickles (6-4) at Armwood (10-0)
At Stake: The winner plays the winner of the Largo/Hillsborough game next Friday.
Last Playoff Appearance: The Hawks reached the 2009 state semifinals before losing 41-15 to eventual state champion Palm Beach Dwyer.
Player To Watch: Matt Jones, Armwood. Jones eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in the regular season finale, finishing with 1,023 for the year. But even that impressive number is misleading. The Hawks blew out the majority of their opponents, so Jones often spent a good deal of the second half on the bench. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has the speed to run by defenders and the size to run over them.
Quick Count: The good news for the Gryphons is tailback Cary White has had a special year, rushing for nearly 7 yards per carry and becoming one of the top running backs in the county. The bad news is Armwood's defense is pulverizing and specializes in shutting down running backs. Look for Armwood to win and potentially set up a rematch against Hillsborough next week.