NEW TAMPA — If Freedom coach Marquel Blackwell wanted to get the season off on the right foot, signal a new beginning in the Patriots' program and stick it to a neighborhood rival, he picked the perfect forum.
Freedom's 29-24 win at Wharton on Sept. 5 did all that and makes memories of last season's 1-9 record a little less prominent.
"This is a big win for us,'' Blackwell said. "The last two seasons we were 0-2 against these guys, so this was big for us to open with a good night.''
Freedom (1-0) looks for another good night tonight when it hosts a winless Gaither team desperate for a victory.
While the Patriots are coming off a bye and that win against the Wildcats, Gaither's rough start has included back-to-back blowout losses to Chamberlain (45-13) and Plant (49-7).
Gaither running back Jarvis Giles, who sat out both losses with groin and leg injuries, is expected back. Meanwhile, Freedom will counter with an improved defense and an offense led by quarterback Josh Grady, who ran for 114 yards and two scores and passed for another 41 yards in the Wharton win.
In other contests tonight, the latest chapter of the Chamberlain-Hillsborough rivalry takes place. Both teams are 2-0 and eyeing playoff runs. Leto, Alonso and Sickles try to bounce back from losses, and Wharton hosts East Bay.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Alonso (1-1) at Blake (0-2)
Last week: Alonso lost to Hillsborough 41-14; Blake lost to Plant City 8-0.
Last Year: Alonso defeated Blake 20-7.
The Skinny: Alonso quarterback C.J. Bennett is the real deal. In his team's 27-point defeat to an outstanding Hillsborough team, Bennett still managed to complete 23 of 56 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Blake, meanwhile, is still looking for its first points of the season.
The Edge: Anyone who thought Bennett has been impressive the first two weeks will love this game. Look for Bennett to throw and throw again as the Ravens win big against the YellowJackets.
Chamberlain (2-0) at Hillsborough (2-0)
Last Week: Chamberlain defeated Middleton 35-14; Hillsborough defeated Alonso 41-14.
Last Year: Hillsborough defeated Chamberlain 20-0.
The Skinny: Defenses have had no answer for Chamberlain's Kenny Allen and Dontae Aycock so far this season. Likewise for Hillsborough's Tarean Austin and Lindsey Lamar. In a matchup of outstanding offenses, this game will hinge on the defenses.
The Edge: In a longtime rivalry like this, emotion and who wants it more always plays a part. The winner will also get a huge boost for the rest of the season. In a close one, Hillsborough wins.
Gaither (0-2) at Freedom (1-0)
Last Week: Gaither lost to Plant 49-7; Freedom was off.
Last Year: Gaither defeated Freedom 42-6.
The Skinny: Gaither players were desperate for a win last week, but they are beyond that.
The Cowboys did get some good news this week. Tailback Jarvis Giles, slowed by leg and groin injuries, should play.
Freedom had a bye week to celebrate its upset win against Wharton and get back to work, preparing for Gaither.
The Edge: Freedom wants the win, but Gaither needs the win. Cowboys take this one.
Robinson (0-2) at Leto (1-1)
Last Week: Robinson lost to Jefferson 27-7; Leto lost to Tampa Bay Tech 41-6.
Last Year: Leto defeated Robinson 29-27.
The Skinny: The Knights fell on hard times last season, winning only one game. Things haven't gotten much better this year as Robinson has scored only one touchdown in eight quarters. Leto was pounded in its last game but played well in the season opener.
The Edge: In a game of evenly matched teams, Leto's ability to move the ball offensively may be the key. Falcons nip the Knights.
Tampa Bay Tech (2-0) at Sickles (0-2)
Last Week: Tech defeated Leto 41-6; Sickles lost to Lennard 21-14.
Last Year: Tech defeated Sickles 47-0.
The Skinny: Sickles held early leads in both of its contests before losing both games. That may not be a good sign for the Gryphons going into their game against the Titans, who play solid defense and churn up yards on offense in bunches.
The Edge: Sickles may not have to worry about giving up the lead in this game because it likely won't have a lead. Tech runs to a big win.
East Bay (2-0) at Wharton (0-2)
Last Week: Wharton lost to Armwood 52-10; East Bay defeated Durant 17-3.
Last Year: Wharton defeated East Bay 20-17.
The Skinny: Wharton had the unenviable task of trying to shake off its Freedom loss by playing nationally ranked Armwood. Now the Wildcats have to try to get over their Armwood smashing against one of the most improved teams in the area. Going back to last season, and counting the playoffs and this year's preseason, Wharton has lost six games in a row. East Bay tailback Chaz Burrows has 347 yards rushing in two games this season.
The Edge: Burrows will add more as the Indians continue Wharton's winless streak.
JEFFERSON (1-1) is off.