When the Jesuit bus rolls into St. Petersburg tonight, the Tigers will be carrying more than their perfect Class 5A, District 8 record into the showdown with Lakewood.
They'll also carry the "Tiger football" way of doing things that has them 6-1 (6-0 in the district) this year and owners of a 17-2 overall record since coach James Harrell took over before the 2010 season.
"The mind-set is that we prepare for everybody the same way," Harrell said. "We understand what this game means toward a district championship. That's what we work for. We will show up and play Tiger football."
That mantra will be put to the test tonight as Lakewood (6-0 and 5-0 in 5A-8) hosts the Tigers in a huge 5A-8 contest.
Jesuit comes in on a six-game winning streak since losing on opening night to Plant on Sept. 2. The Tigers have been dominant since, solidifying their quarterback spot with Tommy Eveld and playing prolific offense.
Eveld has thrown for 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns since taking over for an injured Aaron Paulsen a little more than a month ago.
"He (Eveld) has come into his own," Harrell said of his 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior. "His decision making is where it needs to be and he has really come along."
Eveld's primary decisions have included getting the ball to wideout Travis Johnson, who leads the Tigers with 26 receptions and handing off to backs Kevin Newman and Rico Gonzalez, who have a combined 475 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
All will need to be on their game against the Spartans, who boast the district's top defense. The team appears to play down to the competition, having struggled against winless Middleton and Seminole, but it should be fired up tonight.
Lakewood has yielded an average of less than two touchdowns (72 points) a game this season. And that has mostly been without standout defensive end Dante Fowler, who is back after sitting out several games for disciplinary reasons.
On offense, the Spartans provide multiple playmakers for quarterback Tracy Johnson, whose 18 touchdown passes and 56 percent completion rate are among the best in Pinellas County. He has one of the best targets in the bay area in wideout Rodney Adams, a transfer from St. Petersburg Catholic who has eight touchdowns in six games this year.
"We know how good they are," Harrell said of the talented Spartans. "They're real good and well-coached."
A Jesuit win would all but seal the district crown and make next week's Lakewood at Robinson game an elimination contest for the district's second playoff berth.
"Our kids will be motivated," Harrell said. "Their kids will be motivated. I'm even motivated. It should be exciting."
(All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted)
Berkeley Prep (6-0) at Clearwater Central Catholic (5-1)
LAST GAMES: Berkeley Prep defeated St. Petersburg Catholic 45-0 on Oct. 6; CCC defeated Tampa Catholic 24-17 on Oct. 7.
THE SKINNY: The winner of this Class 3A, District 5 will all but own the district crown. Both teams are 1-0 in the district and have had two weeks to prep for this contest. As outstanding as Berkeley athlete Nelson Agholor has been, QB Destin Nichols has made the offense go with his 63 percent completion rate, 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. CCC, meanwhile, comes in with a five-game win streak thanks in part to RB Blair Vaughn's 17-yard touchdown run to beat district foe Tampa Catholic two weeks ago.
St. Petersburg Catholic (2-5) at Tampa Catholic (5-1), 7 p.m.
LAST WEEK: St. Petersburg Catholic defeated Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 39-33; Tampa Catholic defeated Winter Park Trinity Prep 35-0.
THE SKINNY: Tampa Catholic (0-1 in 3A-5), which must win to stay in the 3A-5 race, bounced back from its loss to CCC with an outstanding all-around effort on the road at Trinity Prep. RB Trevor Register ran for 131 yards as backfield mate Jordan Rich-Rogers rested a sore hamstring. The fact that the Crusaders are hitting on a lot of offensive cylinders isn't a good sign for SPC (0-1), whose defense has yielded 31 points a game.
Middleton (0-6) at Gibbs (2-4)
LAST GAMES: Middleton lost to Blake 41-19 on Oct. 6; Gibbs lost to Robinson 36-18.
THE SKINNY: The bad news for Gibbs is that it has lost three games in a row. The good news is that it is hosting Middleton, which has mustered just seven points per game this season. At 2-3 in Class 5A-8, Gibbs is out of the district race. But, with three district games happening tonight, Gibbs still has plenty to play for. Middleton, meanwhile, is looking to avoid the mistakes that led to a 22-point loss to rival Blake and perform like it did in a 15-12 loss against unbeaten Lakewood last month.
Carrollwood Day (4-3) at Cambridge (5-2)
LAST WEEK: CDS defeated Bradenton Christian 33-17; Cambridge defeated Keswick Christian 36-22.
THE SKINNY: Two solid, scrappy teams in the Class 2A, District 5 race. With five wins this season, Cambridge has already topped its win totals in each of coach Bob Dare's first two seasons. And at 4-2 in 2A-5, the Lancers are a game out of first place in pursuit of their first-ever playoff berth. Meanwhile, CDS's potent offense, led by QB Deuce Gruden's 1,000-plus combined yards and 10 TDs, has scored more than 40 points in four of its seven games. The Patriots are 2-3 in district play.
Rod Gipson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.