TAMPA — With Alonso, Jefferson and Gaither falling in the first round of the football playoffs, northern Hillsborough County's flood of teams in the postseason suddenly is down to two.
Two teams, one game.
Wharton (9-2) will square off against host Chamberlain (10-1) Friday in the Class 5A regional semifinals.
Wharton survived a 35-28 shootout with Alonso to advance while Chamberlain thrashed Gaither 54-6 in the opening round. Jefferson, meanwhile, lost 14-7 on the road against Bradenton Southeast in the Class 4A regional playoffs.
That sets up a meeting of Chamberlain's prolific offense, led by do-it-all quarterback Dontae Aycock, against the Wildcats, who played most of the Alonso game on pure emotion.
Wharton defensive coordinator Earl Goodman suffered a heart attack and died Nov. 8. The Wildcats players honored their coach with prayers, his initials on their uniforms and, most notably, their last-minute win against Alonso.
Wharton, which has won nine games in a row, got outstanding performances from quarterback Andrew Clifford, who completed 8 of 33 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns, and receiver/running back/safety Jairus Jones, who accounted for four touchdowns against Alonso.
Chamberlain, meanwhile, won't try anything different against the Wildcats. The Chiefs, who slipped past Wharton 26-25 in the opening round of the playoffs last season, simply line up and dare teams to stop Aycock.
A blend of power and speed, Aycock ran for 196 yards and four touchdowns against Gaither last week. He also threw two touchdowns to standout receiver Anthony Williams.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Wharton (9-2) at Chamberlain (10-1)
Last Week: Wharton defeated Alonso, 35-28; Chamberlain beat Gaither, 54-6.
Last Meeting: Chamberlain beat Wharton, 26-25, in the 2007 Class 5A, region quarterfinal playoffs.
The Skinny: Wharton's ball-control offense will face a tough challenge against the Chamberlain defense, which has allowed just one touchdown in its past eight quarters. But with Clifford, Jones and tailback Shane McEwen, the Wildcats have playmakers who can move the ball and score.
A bigger problem for the Wildcats will be slowing down the Chiefs' offense. Wharton has allowed 25 points a game this season — a figure in line with Chamberlain's quick-strike offense, which is tallying an average of 38 points a contest.
The Edge: The emotions of the past few weeks will continue to linger for Wharton, which must keep Chamberlain's offense off the field to keep this game close. The only problem is Chamberlain's stout defense likely will limit Wharton's offensive chances. The Chiefs will enjoy another home win and move on to the region finals.