Forget about easing into the season. With a full slate of games this evening on the opening Friday night of football season, fans have a smorgasbord of options. There's Jesuit-Plant, Freedom-Durant, Newsome-Tampa Bay Tech and King-Wharton. But with Armwood missing starting quarterback Darryl Richardson and running back Matt Jones because of knee injuries, Brandon has an improved chance to record a milestone victory. So make sure you get there early to beat the crowds, grab yourself a Frito Pie (or two) and reacquaint yourself with those uncomfortable metal bleachers.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Newsome (0-0) at Tampa Bay Tech (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Newsome defeated Steinbrenner 37-33; Tampa Bay Tech lost to Jefferson 46-21.
THE SKINNY: Tampa Bay Tech has one of the best defensive units in the county, but they will be tested by Newsome tailback Keller Powers. TBT will feature Middleton transfer Aaron Midthus under center in his first official game as the Titans QB. This should be one of the better area matchups on season-opening Friday.
Armwood (1-0) at Brandon (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Armwood defeated Las Vegas Bishop Gorman 20-17; Brandon beat Blake 35-6.
THE SKINNY: Brandon looked solid against Blake in last week's preseason game, but that has little bearing with mighty Armwood traveling south on Parsons Avenue tonight. If Richardson can't go, receiver Alvin Bailey will likely take his place under center. Wade Edwards will continue to fill in for Jones after rushing for 83 yards on 18 carries last week against Bishop Gorman, a victory that counts toward its regular-season tally.
Middleton (0-0) at Hillsborough (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Hillsborough beat Plant City 19-14; Middleton lost to King 43-19.
THE SKINNY: After nipping a tough Plant City team 19-14 last Friday, the Terriers should find the season opener much easier sledding. Keep an eye on Purdue-bound senior Anthony Brown, who turned a short screen into an electrifying 86-yard TD reception last week against the Raiders.
Strawberry Crest (0-0) at Plant City (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Strawberry Crest lost to Freedom 31-20; Plant City lost to Hillsborough 19-14.
THE SKINNY: The Chargers made the monstrous leap from 2A to 6A this year and landed smack in the middle of a district with Hillsborough, Armwood and Jefferson. Oh, and they have to open with Plant City tonight.
Spoto (0-0) at Riverview (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Spoto lost to Alonso 13-12; Riverview lost to Wharton 42-28.
THE SKINNY: The Spartans have become known for their team speed. All eyes will be on Spoto's new wideouts, Geronimo Allison and Kalvin Gant. Allison, a 6-foot-4 receiver, sat out the past two seasons with academic troubles, while Gant is playing varsity for the first time after concentrating on track.
Lennard (0-0) at East Bay (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Lennard defeated Leto 42-8; East Bay lost to Chamberlain 30-7.
THE SKINNY: East Bay has a new coach (Frank Larosa) and ditched the prehistoric wishbone offense. Lennard's backfield combo of Kaylab Phillips and Victor Robinson each ran for more than 100 yards in the Longhorns' 42-8 win against a weak Leto team last Friday.
Freedom (0-0) at Durant (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Freedom beat Strawberry Crest 31-20; Durant defeated Bloomingdale 15-0.
THE SKINNY: Durant didn't look pretty in its shutout of Bloomingdale, but then again, most Cougar teams aren't particularly flashy. What they are, however, is well-coached and scrappy. The Patriots will provide an excellent measuring stick for Durant, and that will aid the Cougars in preparation for a well-balanced district featuring Brandon, Newsome and Plant City.
Bradenton Bayshore (0-0) at Tampa Catholic (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Bayshore defeated Pinellas Park 35-12; Tampa Catholic lost to Boca Ciega 28-20.
THE SKINNY: Bayshore's rotating three-back set and solid offensive line likes to pound the ball. Tampa Catholic will need to get off to a fast start, avoid miscues and keep the ball away from Bayshore.
Jesuit (0-0) at Plant (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Jesuit beat Miami Belen Jesuit 21-14; Plant lost to Miami Columbus 35-7.
THE SKINNY: Jesuit QB Aaron Paulsen established himself in the kickoff classic with 100-plus yards passing, 50 yards rushing and the winning touchdown run. But which Panthers D will he face? Another dominating Plant squad capable of a deep playoff run or a revamped unit that gave up five touchdowns last week? Ranked No. 3 and 4, respectively, in the Times preseason Football fab 50, Plant and Jesuit will provide each other with an early-season snapshot of where they stand.
Bloomingdale (0-0) at Chamberlain (0-0)
LAST WEEK: Bloomingdale lost 15-0 to Durant; Chamberlain beat East Bay 30-7.
THE SKINNY: Bulls coach John Booth is excited about the infusion of athleticism and experience on this year's team. Bloomingdale may be better defensively, but the Bulls will have their hands full with Chamberlain junior RB Xavier Johnson, who flashed his running ability with 168 yards and two TDs in one half of work in the Chiefs' preseason win.
Times Correspondent Rod Gipson contributed to this report.