By ROD GIPSON | Times Staff Writer
Just call tonight's Lakewood at Robinson game the other big one.
While much of the county will be focused on the nondistrict battle of the unbeatens taking place between Plant and Armwood, Lakewood and Robinson meet in a game that actually has larger implications.
Jesuit topped Lakewood in St. Petersburg 33-19 last week to earn the Class 5A, District 8 championship. That leaves either Lakewood or Robinson in line to grab the district's other playoff ticket, depending on who wins the game tonight.
Robinson's defense will have to contain the bay area's leading passer and receiver in the Spartans' combo of QB Tracy Johnson (21 TD passes) and WR Rodney Adams (25 catches, 742 yards, 10 TDs). But the Knights have their own offensive firepower, having averaged 40 points a game during their current four-game winning streak thanks in part to quarterback Vidal Woodruff.
Other interesting matchups tonight have Alonso, trying to shake off a two-game losing streak, playing at Tampa Catholic, King and Hillsborough in a Class 6A-8 meeting, resurgent Gaither at Chamberlain in 7A-7, Carrollwood Day traveling to Indian Rocks Christian in a 2A-5 clash and Berkeley Prep hosting Orlando First Academy in a nondistrict game.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Plant (7-0) at Armwood (8-0)
LAST WEEK: Plant beat Alonso 48-6 and the Hawks defeated Hillsborough 38-16.
THE SKINNY: Every year, the hype machine gets rolling on Monday, and this season is no different. These two powerhouses don't share the same classification, but this is as close to a playoff atmosphere in a nonplayoff game as possible. Plant has steadily gotten better each week, and first-year starting QB James Few has looked good, but they have not yet seen a defense as dominating as the Hawks. Venerable Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia called this 2011 unit the best Armwood has ever had.
Lakewood (6-1) at Robinson (6-1)
LAST WEEK: Lakewood lost to Jesuit 33-19; Robinson defeated Spoto 34-14.
THE SKINNY: With Jesuit wrapping up the district crown, this game will be for the Class 5A, District 8 runner-up spot and accompanying playoff berth.
Alonso (5-2) at Tampa Catholic (6-1)
LAST WEEK: Alonso lost to Plant 48-6; Tampa Catholic defeated St. Petersburg Catholic 70-7.
THE SKINNY: A break from district games for both teams still battling for playoff spots. Alonso needs to look sharper after two straight blowout losses. TC may be eyeing its huge district showdown with Berkeley Prep next week.
King (3-4) at Hillsborough (6-2)
LAST GAMES: King lost to Jefferson 29-16 on Oct. 14; Hillsborough lost to Armwood 38-16 last week.
THE SKINNY: Despite Hillsborough's loss to powerhouse Armwood last week, the Terriers still own the second playoff berth in 6A-8. Tonight, Hillsborough's defense will try to defend one of the area's top passers in King QB Greg Windham (19 TDs).
Gibbs (3-4) at Jesuit (7-1)
LAST WEEK: Gibbs defeated Middleton 20-17; Jesuit defeated Lakewood 33-19.
THE SKINNY: After dropping their opener to undefeated Plant, the Tigers have been on fire. Winners of seven in a row, sentiment was tempered a bit after a sloppy win against Lakewood last week. Either way, Jesuit managed to overcome 18 penalties against the Spartans and clinch a playoff berth.
Tampa Bay Tech (4-3) at Freedom (1-7)
LAST WEEK: Tampa Bay Tech defeated Steinbrenner 35-25; Freedom lost to Gaither 37-0.
THE SKINNY: Tech is coming into this Class 7A, District 7 game with two straight wins for the first time all season. Tech will host Gaither next week to settle the 7A-7 title. Freedom is looking to close out a miserable season with strong efforts.
Gaither (5-2) at Chamberlain (1-6)
LAST WEEK: Gaither defeated Freedom 37-0; Chamberlain defeated Wiregrass Ranch 32-0.
THE SKINNY: Gaither's defense (72 points allowed this season) is a huge reason why the Cowboys will be playing for a district crown next week. First, Gaither has to get by Chamberlain and standout RB Xavier Johnson, who scored four touchdowns last week.
Blake (3-5) at Wharton (3-4)
LAST WEEK: Blake defeated Lennard 32-7; Wharton defeated Bloomingdale 49-24
THE SKINNY: Despite his team's struggles this season, Blake QB Zain Gilmore is among the bay area's leaders with 1,300 yards and 12 TDs. Wharton's Darius Page is coming off a 251-yards rushing, three-TD performance in the Wildcats' win against Bloomingdale.
Steinbrenner (4-3) at Wiregrass Ranch (0-7)
LAST WEEK: Steinbrenner lost to Tampa Bay Tech 35-25; Wiregrass Ranch lost to Chamberlain 32-0.
THE SKINNY: Steinbrenner can't win the district but still can finish strong in the Class 7A, District 7 race. Wiregrass Ranch has struggled on offense all season, shut out four times in seven contests.
Dunedin (2-5) at Middleton (0-6)
LAST GAMES: Dunedin lost to Jesuit 48-21 on Oct. 14; Middleton lost to Gibbs 20-17 last week.
THE SKINNY: Two struggling offenses in the lower half of Class 5A, District 8. Middleton's defense, which has yielded almost four touchdowns per game, will try to defend its turf enough to get the Tigers their first win of the season.
Sickles (3-4) at Strawberry Crest (1-6)
LAST WEEK: Jefferson defeated Sickles 22-0; Strawberry Crest defeated Leto 37-32.
THE SKINNY: Mark one in the Chargers' win column! Sure their victory last week came against a dreadful 0-8 Leto team, but after suffering through an 80-0 throttling the previous week against Armwood, the win tasted mighty good. It may prove fleeting, however. Sickles is better than its record indicates.
Leto (0-8) at Jefferson (3-4)
LAST WEEK: Leto lost to Strawberry Crest 37-32; Jefferson defeated Sickles 22-0.
THE SKINNY: Jefferson has looked more like the Dragons of old in recent weeks, evening its district mark to 2-2. Make that 3-2 after tonight's tilt with the Falcons.
First Academy (Orlando) (6-1) at Berkeley Prep (7-0)
LAST WEEK: First Academy defeated Melbourne Holy Trinity 41-7; Berkeley Prep defeated Clearwater Central Catholic 21-0.
THE SKINNY: First Academy has won six contests in a row and outscored its opponents 131-12 during the last three weeks. Berkeley, meanwhile, has pitched three shutouts during its last four games as it moves toward the postseason.
Carrollwood Day (5-3) at Indian Rocks Christian (5-3)
LAST WEEK: Carrollwood Day defeated Cambridge 54-35; IRC defeated Northside Christian 54-20.
THE SKINNY: A battle of squads that have come up just short in the Class 2A, District 5 race. This still should be a good matchup between IRC's defense and CDS running back Robert Davis, who leads the bay area with 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Seffner Christian (5-2) at Cambridge (5-3)
LAST WEEK: Seffner Christian lost to Community School of Naples 20-7; Cambridge lost to Carrollwood Day 54-35.
THE SKINNY: Seffner Christian had won five games in a row before last week's setback. Cambridge's offense is among the best in the area, as is WR Robbie Robertson, whose 42 receptions, 527 yards and seven TDs ranks in the area's top ten.
Brandon Wright contributed to this report. Rod Gipson can be reached at email@example.com.