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Excitement on rise with area's Friday night lights

SEFFNER — In case you haven't heard, Armwood is playing Plant tonight at 7 on ESPNU. Oh, you knew that already? Well, since it's hard to escape the myriad breakdowns of the Hawks-Panthers' tilt, we'll focus on the other games kicking off tonight. Being the first week of the season, everyone starts off with the same record and has the same goal: reaching the state championship. The hope that springs from Armwood's team also lives in Bloomingdale's. And that's what makes the first week so great — everyone is on equal footing.

And for the record, I think Armwood stomps Plant tonight.

Plant City at Durant

Last Week: Gaither hammered Durant 27-7 while Tampa Bay Tech did the same against the Raiders, beating Plant City 27-0.

Last week's scores weren't pretty for the Raiders or Cougars. That said, both teams had preseason games against tough competition. Gaither, featuring tailback Jarvis Giles, is strong again while TBT has an impressive arsenal of athletes and will be much improved this year.

Durant coach Mike Gottman wasn't too dismayed about last Friday's result, saying "there were a number of good things." Durant drove down the field on its first possession and scored on quarterback Je'Twan Smith's 1-yard touchdown run. Durant marched down the field the following two possessions, only to have turnovers halt the drives.

"It's a matter of taking care of the ball," Gottman said. "Offensively, we did some very good things in the first half (against Gaither), but we have to eliminate the mistakes."

Plant City struggled mightily against TBT. The Raiders were sacked seven times, threw two interceptions and fumbled four times. The Titans defensive line manhandled the Raiders and made each Clint Stearns pass an adventure. The bright spot in the Raiders' loss was defensive back Brian Goodman. He picked off TBT's first pass of the game, recovered a fumble and had a nifty punt return. Plant City will need more of the same to keep up with the Cougars.

Wright's Pick: Durant

Tampa Bay Tech at Bloomingdale

Last Week: Bloomingdale beat Riverview 15-6.

Quick Count: It was only preseason, but the Bulls' win last week was big. It should give Bloomingdale and first-year coach Jason Stokes a big boost heading into tonight. The bad news is the Bulls will be playing a TBT team that took apart Plant City last week. Bloomingdale's Anthony Beko, a Spoto transfer, ran for 41 yards and a touchdown and connected for another 71 through the air. TBT's front seven was impressive and Bloomingdale's O-line will have its hands full keeping them off Beko.

Wright's Pick: TBT

Newsome at Spoto

Last Week: Spoto beat Leto 18-16 and the Wolves defeated Lennard 35-14.

Quick Count: The Spartans are looking to put last year's 3-7 season behind them.

"The past is the past and the kids have been really looking forward to (tonight)," first-year Spoto coach Dale Caparaso said.

Spoto's defense — which likely will be its strength — made quite a first impression. Running a variety of blitz packages, the Spartans recorded three safeties and three more turnovers in the first half alone.

"I love our defense," Caparaso said. "We give them a chance to pin their ears back and get after people. I think they responded to that."

Caparaso said the focus tonight will be stopping Newsome running back Conner Powers.

"I think if you ask most coaches around the area the answer will be the same," Caparaso said. "Limiting Powers is the key to beating them."

Wright's Pick: Spoto

Brandon at Middleton

Last Week: The Eagles defeated Sickles 14-13.

Quick Count: Brandon was bailed out last week by a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns from Greg LaClair, including an 85-yard punt return. The Eagles lost a ton of talent from last year's playoff squad, and tonight's opener promises to be a stern test against an athletic Middleton squad. The Tigers are leaning toward starting freshman quarterback Greg Windham, who showed well last week against Jacksonville Sandalwood. That could either lead to a stirring high school debut or a smorgasbord for Brandon's defensive line. From all indications, I'm betting on the former.

Wright's Pick: Middleton

East Bay at Riverview

Last Week: East Bay dismantled King 35-6. Riverview lost 15-6 to Bloomingdale.

Quick Count: The Indians looked quite good against a weak King team while the Sharks stumbled against a perennially bad Bloomingdale squad. Although the Double Wing T offense is gone, Riverview still was unable to complete a pass. Ronnie Johnson, however, was outstanding for the Sharks. Johnson rushed for 146 yards on 14 carries and will be counted on heavily tonight. East Bay's Chaz Burrows ran for a pair of scores and both Indian quarterbacks, Brandon Peterson and Fred Porter, did the same.

Wright's Pick: East Bay

Excitement on rise with area's Friday night lights 09/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 4:32am]
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