Largo vs. St. Petersburg. The Packers against the Green Devils. The game doesn't have the same ring as, say, Gators-Seminoles or Redskins-Cowboys, but for the purposes of sorting out the high school playoff picture, there might not be a bigger game this week. Tonight marks the first wave of district games in Pinellas, and this week's schedule features pivotal early-season matchups, highlighted by Largo's meeting with St. Petersburg in the 'Burg.
The Largo-St. Petersburg winner has a relatively clear path to the playoffs. The loser, well, can look forward to battling the Gibbses and the Dixie Hollinses of the Class 5A, District 10 world for that runnerup postseason spot.
Last year, St. Petersburg lost its first six games, including a 28-0 Week 4 loss to Largo, in struggling to a 3-7 record.
The Green Devils' 2008 start has held considerably more promise. They are 2-1 after blowing out Northeast in the opener and handing Countryside its first loss last week.
The defense has allowed a meager nine points a game. The offense has been steadily efficient behind a grinding, churning, ball-control ground attack that accounts for more than 90 percent of the Green Devils' total yardage.
But this week brings Largo (2-0), a different beast altogether.
"They're the team that everybody's trying to beat to get that district title," St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio said. "They've won it the last three years, so if you have aspirations of winning the district, which I think every team in our district does, you have to go through Largo."
St. Petersburg has had minimal success since Largo jumped up a class into 5A-10 before the 2005 season. The Packers have won all three meetings by a combined 89-23.
The Green Devils were shut out in the last two losses.
In other words, 1,072 days have passed since St. Petersburg has lit up its side of the scoreboard against Largo.
Said Fabrizio: "They were better than we were, quite simply. They had really good kids playing against us on both sides of the ball. We didn't match up. We would have had to play a perfect game and hope they made a mistake or two to win.
"This year, I think we match up a little better with them."
The Packers defense, led by returning leading tackler Mike Marry, has two shutouts under its belt in two attempts. Despite an entirely new defensive line, early indications show the defense might be just as good as a year ago when the Packers set numerous school records and allowed just more than 10 points a game.
Might this be Rick Rodriguez's best defense ever at Largo?
"There's a possibility. It could be," he said. "But we're not there yet. We should get a tough test against St. Pete."
Despite its recent success against the Green Devils, Largo is not looking past St. Petersburg, especially considering the game is the first, and perhaps toughest, on the Packers' district schedule.
"Our guys know this game has a lot of impact," Rodriguez said. "Both teams are going to be ready for this game. They've got a great team. It'll be a good game."
Other district matchups
Games with serious playoff implications
Dunedin (3-0) at Countryside (2-1)
Dunedin has claimed the past two meetings. Before that, Countryside had won three in a row. Until last year's 39-21 runaway Dunedin victory, the past four meetings between these two were decided by three points or fewer. The winner here has a leg up on the rest of Class 5A, District 9.
Lakewood (2-1) vs. Boca Ciega (1-1) at Osceola
Mole crickets may have forced this game to Osceola's field — only in Florida, right — but the animosity between these district rivals remains. Lakewood is hoping to snap a five-game losing streak to Boca Ciega but will have to find a way to score on a Pirates defense that held Dunedin to 14 points in Week 1 and turned Dixie Hollins away three times in the red zone without surrendering a point last week.