Things are starting to take shape in the county's football landscape as the midway point of the season approaches.
There are a couple of nice matchups with Brandon at Durant and Tampa Catholic at Bloomingdale, some quality 1-2 teams that merit watching in Spoto, Chamberlain and Tampa Bay Tech, and a couple of games that may be decided early in Plant City at Riverview and Leto at Armwood.
But it may be Brandon at Durant that holds the most intrigue. The Eagles-Cougars battle culminates an ongoing RaceTrac rivalry between the two schools. Fans from Brandon and Durant have been competing at area convenience stores in a promotion that will net the winning school a $3,500 donation. But a win on the field will hold even more value.
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Brandon (2-1) at Durant (1-1)
Last week: The Eagles defeated Freedom 29-22; Durant lost to Alonso 26-5 on Sept. 9.
The Skinny: Brandon looked sloppy last week in a win against the Patriots, a team Durant crushed 36-0 in Week 1. Every game is critical in ubertough Class 7A, District 8 and this opener should be a doozie.
Robinson (2-1) at Lennard (1-2)
Last week: Robinson lost to Jesuit 21-7; Lennard defeated Middleton 27-0.
The Skinny: Lennard got off the mat in a big way last week as the Longhorns showed they were better than their 0-2 start. But Robinson is coming to town tonight and the Knights have too many weapons.
Sickles (2-0) at King (1-2)
Last week: King lost to Alonso 38-34; Sickles defeated Wharton 38-21.
The Skinny: King has lost the last two games by a touchdown or less. The Lions blew a 15-point third quarter lead last week against Alonso, but after driving 82 yards with less than two minutes to play, King came up short. Sickles will counter with a stingy defense and the steady hand of QB Nate Mills.
Tampa Catholic (2-0) at Bloomingdale (2-1)
Last week: Tampa Catholic defeated Zephyrhills 39-13; Bloomingdale lost to East Bay 28-26.
The skinny: Bloomingdale was 1 yard away from a school record 3-0 start, but fumbled at the goal line with time running out against the Indians. Either way, Bloomingdale has been one of the big stories so far this season, but a tough Crusaders team awaits tonight.
Plant City (3-0) at Riverview (1-2)
Last week: Plant City defeated Gaither 21-7; Riverview defeated Leto 49-36.
The skinny: Riverview earned its first win of the season last week, but Plant City continues to look like the real deal after knocking off a very good Gaither team. This is both club's first district game.
Middleton (0-3) at Spoto (1-2)
Last week: Lennard defeated Middleton 27-0; Spoto lost to Gibbs 19-13.
The skinny: Middleton had been shutout twice so far while Spoto may be the best 1-2 team around, having lost both games by less than a touchdown against Alonso and Gibbs.
Leto (0-3) at Armwood (3-0)
Last week: Leto lost to Riverview 49-36; Armwood defeated Tampa Bay Tech 40-7.
The Skinny: It won't help the Falcons that University of Florida commitment Matt Jones will make his season debut for Armwood. Leto displayed some offensive pop last week, but will find it far more difficult to move the ball against the Hawks and standout linebacker Eric Striker.
Strawberry Crest (0-3) at Hillsborough (2-1)
Last Week: Strawberry Crest lost to Steinbrenner 28-0; Hillsborough defeated Newsome 35-28.
The Skinny: Strawberry Crest's issues right now are two-fold: The Chargers are having trouble scoring and can't seem to stop anyone on defense. That's a bad combination heading into a contest at Hillsborough, which despite not being the program of old, is still Hillsborough. The Terriers' big win last week has it pumped heading into this Class 6A, District 8 opener.
Newsome (1-2) at East Bay (2-1)
Last Week: Newsome lost to Hillsborough 35-28, East Bay defeated Bloomingdale 28-26.
The Skinny: It's early, but new East Bay coach Frank LaRosa appears to have the Indians on the right track having knocked off Lennard and Bloomingdale while losing a close game against Steinbrenner. With wins tonight and on Oct. 6 against Riverview, the Indians can lay claim to being South Shore's best team, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Newsome's wing-T offense, powered by RB Keller Powers, will be East Bay's toughest test to date.
Ocala Christian (2-0) at Seffner Christian (1-1)
Last week: Seffner Christian defeated Life Christian 53-14 on Sept. 9; Ocala Christian defeated Master's Academy 26-14.
The Skinny: Seth Lewis ran for three scores in the win against Life Academy and a win would put Seffner Christian over .500 for the first time in school history.
Times Correspondent Rod Gipson contributed to this report. Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.