TAMPA — It's not that most of the games during the past three weeks had no meaning.
It's just that starting tonight, pretty much all of the games will have meaning — especially when it comes to district standings.
That means tonight's contests take on greater significance as several teams open their district slates. Gaither, Chamberlain, Steinbrenner and Freedom all open district play in Class 7A, District 7 while Hillsborough begins play in 6A-8.
Meanwhile, Cambridge (2A-5) and Blake (5A-8) are trying to make headway in their ongoing district races. Cambridge, 1-1 in district play and tied for third, needs a win against Northside Christian tonight to keep pace. Blake, winless in district play, just needs a victory as it hosts 5A-8 leader Jesuit.
An interesting matchup outside of the county, and the state for that matter, has Jefferson traveling to Ohio to face powerhouse St. Edward.
Alonso, Plant and Wharton are off tonight.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Jefferson (1-1) at St. Edward (Ohio) (4-0)
Last Week: Jefferson defeated Newsome 22-21 on Sept. 9; St. Edward defeated Elder (Ohio) 30-10.
The Skinny: Jefferson, which won the Class 3A state title last season, hits the road tonight, playing at a team that is the Ohio Division I defending state champ. Jefferson, which is transitioning with a new coach and new starting quarterback, faces unbeaten St. Edward, which has won 19 in a row, is ranked No. 1 in Ohio, No. 12 in the nation and features one of the state's top recruits in RB Dwayne Aaron (207 yards rushing in last week's win).
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 are better than their 0-2 start. But Robinson is coming to town tonight and the Knights have too many weapons.
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 are two-fold: The Chargers are having trouble scoring and can't seem to stop anyone on defense. It'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.
Jesuit (2-1) at Blake (1-2)
Last Week: Jesuit defeated Robinson 21-7; Blake lost to Dunedin 19-18.
The Skinny: No doubt about it: Tommy Eveld IS Jesuit's starting quarterback. Aaron Paulsen, who started the first two games at QB, went down last week with a knee injury. Eveld threw for 145 yards and led Jesuit to a key 5A-8 win against Robinson. Jesuit, 2-0 in 5A-8 and tied with Gibbs for the top spot in the district, needs to keep pace in district play. Blake (0-2 in the district) is coming off a tough 1-point 5A-8 loss to Dunedin.
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.
Tampa Bay Tech (1-2) at Chamberlain (1-2)
Last week: TBT lost to Armwood 40-7; Chamberlain lost to Wharton 20-17.
The Skinny: Don't let the records fool you — both of these teams are quality. Tech brings in quality runners in Cludner Lecount and Lamarq Caldwell. The Chiefs will counter with their own rusher in Xavier Johnson, who tallied more than 250 yards in the overtime loss to Wharton. This could shape up as the best game in the county tonight as the Titans and Chiefs open up their district schedules.
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.
Times correspondent Brandon Wright cocntributed to this report. Rod Gipson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.