During the heat of training camp last summer, Berkeley Prep head coach Dominick Ciao said emphatically that his team wanted to be playing for something by the time November rolled around.
Tonight's first contest of November has that element — and then some.
Not only are the undefeated, state-ranked Buccaneers playing to win the Class 3A, District 5 championship, they are doing it against new rival Tampa Catholic.
And Ciao is going up against Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez. The two squared off during the 1990s when Ciao was head coach at Jesuit. Now they have brought their chess skills to the Berkeley Prep-Tampa Catholic rivalry.
Ciao's Jesuit squads were playoff regulars in the '90s when the Tigers racked up 10 playoff appearances, including a state runnersup finish in 1992. Henriquez led Tampa Catholic to the postseason eight times from 1990-99 and six more times since returning to the school as coach in 2005.
The Crusaders have reached the state title games on two occasions (2007 and 2009) under Henriquez.
"We're proud to be playing for first, for a championship," Ciao said. "Now we're going up against a great program in Tampa Catholic. They're physical, play hard and are well-coached with coach Henriquez. They'll be ready, it will be tough, but it should be fun."
The Bucs, 8-0 and ranked fourth in Class 3A, will match their go-go offense led by do-it-all athlete Nelson Agholor against a youthful Tampa Catholic team that has won two of three since a tough mid-season loss to district foe Clearwater Central Catholic.
So here's what's at stake tonight: If Berkeley wins, it earns the championship and Clearwater Central Catholic is runnerup. If TC prevails, the Crusaders, Buccaneers and CCC would convene Monday for a tie-breaker.
Other important district contests include Gaither and Tampa Bay Tech battling for the 7A-7 crown, and resurgent Wharton playing at Alonso for the 8A-6 wildcard berth.
Meanwhile, Cambridge tries to slow down playoff-bound Admiral Farragut and Carrollwood Day plays host to Calvary Christian.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Tampa Catholic (6-2) at Berkeley Prep (8-0)
LAST WEEK: Tampa Catholic lost to Alonso 31-15; Berkeley Prep defeated Orlando First Academy 35-14.
THE SKINNY: QB Destin Nichols and WR Christian Hardegree were as impressive as Nelson Agholor in the Bucs' 35-14 win against First Academy, hooking up on two first-quarter touchdown passes. Now the Bucs are looking to win the district and avoid a dangerous three-way tiebreaker.
Plant (7-1) at Bloomingdale (4-4)
LAST GAME: Plant lost to Armwood 21-0; Wharton defeated Bloomingdale 49-24 Oct. 20.
THE SKINNY: Bloomingdale had an extra week to prep for the Panthers but with Plant wanting to bounce back after a tough loss to Armwood, it won't matter.
Jefferson (4-4) at Strawberry Crest (1-7)
LAST WEEK: Jefferson defeated Leto 79-0; Strawberry Crest lost to Sickles 37-0.
THE SKINNY: The Chargers have been outscored 378-56 this season, with 37 of those points for coming in a victory against winless Leto two weeks ago. It's another easy win for the Dragons.
Armwood (9-0) at King (3-5)
LAST WEEK: Armwood defeated Plant 21-0; King lost to Hillsborough 28-0.
THE SKINNY: Armwood will be looking to run its regular-season winning streak to 26 tonight. Go ahead and put it in the books now.
Gaither (6-2) at Tampa Bay Tech (5-3)
LAST WEEK: Gaither defeated Chamberlain 27-20; Tampa Bay Tech defeated Freedom 69-0.
THE SKINNY: It's Jason vs. Jayson. Gaither enjoys a resurgence under coach Jason Stokes, who came over from Middleton, while Tech continues its string of postseason appearances under new coach Jayson Roberts. The Cowboys will look for more big plays from versatile Shug Oyegunle while Tech will counter with a balanced attack that saw nine different players score against Freedom last week. Although both teams will advance to the playoffs, tonight's game will decide which one is the district champ. This is significant because the district winner plays at home in the region quarterfinals while the runnersup hit the road.
Steinbrenner (5-3) at Chamberlain (1-7)
LAST WEEK: Steinbrenner defeated Wiregrass Ranch 56-0; Chamberlain lost to Gaither 27-20.
THE SKINNY: A 7A-7 matchup of teams that may be better than their records. Chamberlain may be the best 1-7 team around as four of its losses came by an average of five points. And what was supposed to Steinbrenner's breakout year was torpedoed by early season losses to Sickles and Gaither.
Robinson (7-1) at Middleton (0-8)
LAST WEEK: Robinson defeated Lakewood 20-13; Middleton lost to Dunedin 29-20.
THE SKINNY: Robinson has won five straight and basically clinched a playoff berth by knocking off Lakewood. The Knights have to finish the deal tonight, however, by handing winless Middleton another loss. They'll suceed if they again get big games from running backs Martin Ruiz and Michael Duclos.
Blake (3-6) at Gibbs (4-4)
LAST WEEK: Blake lost to Wharton 18-6; Gibbs lost to Jesuit 31-0.
THE SKINNY: Despite its struggles, Blake has one of the area's better QBs in Zain Gilmore, who has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,500 yards and 14 TDs. Tonight gives both teams a chance to move away from the bottom of the bunched-up Class 5A, District 8 standings.