Friday, January 19, 2018

Prep football: How good are the Gryphons? They'll find out against Plant


It's not a district game. It's not a rivalry game or even a matchup of teams in the same state classification. But when Sickles travels to South Tampa for tonight's meeting with Plant, the game represents a huge challenge — and opportunity — for the Gryphons.

The clash pits undefeated Sickles, ranked fourth in last week's Class 7A state poll, against state power Plant, ranked ninth in last week's Class 8A poll. It also will be a measuring stick of where the Sickles program is and where it may be headed.

"All the games are tough," said Sickles coach Brian Turner, after a victory earlier this season. "District or not, we just have to keep playing well and see where we are."

The Gryphons are 5-0 and atop the 7A-7 district standings with games still remaining against league foes Gaither and Tampa Bay Tech. A Sickles loss tonight has no bearing on its district standings or postseason hopes. But a win would be huge.

Among the other contests on a light Friday slate, Chamberlain plays at Hillsborough in a key Class 6A-8 game, Cambridge travels to Life Christian Academy in Kissimmee and Wharton and Steinbrenner face off in Lutz.

Alonso, Berkeley Prep, Freedom and Gaither are all off.

All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Leto (0-5, 0-5) at Armwood (5-0, 4-0)

Last week: Leto lost to Jefferson 49-0; Armwood was off.

Why you should go: Leto has lost 36 straight games on the field (two victories have come by forfeit). There is no reason to believe the Falcons will beat unblemished Armwood, ranked third in the Class 6A poll. But it does make one wonder why Leto and Armwood are even in the same district.

Chamberlain (4-2, 4-0) at Hillsborough (3-2, 3-2)

Last week: Chamberlain defeated Blake 24-6; Hillsborough defeated King 28-27.

Why you should go: To witness the latest version of an old-school Hillsborough County rivalry. And, Chamberlain is one of just two unbeaten squads in 6A-8 play (along with Armwood). Hillsborough, meanwhile, is hanging on to its playoff hopes by the thinnest of margins and needs to keep winning.

Sickles (5-0, 2-0) at Plant (4-1-1, 1-1)

Last week: Sickles defeated Freeman 53-13; Plant defeated Riverview 47-7.

Why you should go: To see what the Sickles offense can do against the Plant defense, which struggled in two of its last three games (allowed 40 points to Bloomingdale and lost 14-7 against Tampa Bay Tech). Sickles RB Ray Ray McCloud leads the Tampa Bay area in rushing with 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns in five games. The Panthers' offense counters with a passing attack led by Colby Brown, a 63 percent passer who has a Bay area-best 17 TD strikes this year.

Wharton (5-1, 2-0) at Steinbrenner (1-4, 0-2)

Last week: Wharton defeated Newsome 21-20; Steinbrenner lost to Tampa Bay Tech 54-28.

Why you should go: To watch a Wharton team playing well on both sides of the ball, as well as on special teams. RB Jeff Keil tallied 235 yards of offense in last week's huge league win against Newsome. However, Wharton still must tangle with Plant, Alonso and Bloomingdale in its pursuit of a third-straight playoff trip.

Cambridge (4-2, 2-1) at Life Christian Academy, 6 p.m.

Last week: Cambridge defeated Northside Christian 52-27; Life was off.

Why you should go: To see one of the hottest offenses in the area. Since its 0-2 start, Cambridge has won four straight and outscored opponents 205-42 in the process. QB Garrett Young has thrown for 1,146 yards and 15 TDs in six games. Life Christian Academy is an independent FHSAA program playing only its second game of the season.

Carrollwood Day School (3-3, 1-1) at Keswick Christian (0-5, 0-3)

Last week: CDS defeated Canterbury 43-30; Keswick was off.

Why you should go: Because CDS is still alive in the Class 2A, District 5 race. The Patriots handed first-place Canterbury its first loss of the season and could be set to make a playoff push. An Oct. 25 showdown with Cambridge looms.

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