There are key moments in every football season. Some shatter a team's playoff hopes. Others become defining moments. Of the four North Suncoast playoff teams, each surpassed one critical test and flourished at the right time. Heading into Friday's matchups, we take a look at the make-or-break moments for the final four.
Breakable moment: The Pirates' 32-7 loss at South Sumter marked their only regular-season loss and second in two seasons. The second game of the season was marred by moments of entitlement, immaturity and lack of execution, leading to a lot of questions.
Unbreakable response: Pasco sophomore Mike Clower intercepts a pass by Mitchell quarterback Matt Michaels and returns it 75 yards for a touchdown for the 17-3 victory Oct. 30. The Mustangs were on the move, trailing 10-3 in the fourth quarter before Clower's score iced the game and handed Pasco its third district title in three seasons. A Mitchell win could have created chaos in Class 3A, District 7.
Breakable moment: The Sharks' 27-23 loss to Dunnellon on homecoming was a low point for the program. After two district losses, Nature Coast was on the brink of playoff elimination in 3A-6. The Sharks had lost their fire, intensity and ability to dominate opponents and win close games.
Unbreakable response: At rising power Hernando on Nov. 6, Nature Coast fended off a final surge by the Leopards for a 22-20 victory to force a three-way tiebreaker for the final playoff berth. Nature Coast and Hernando attempted two-point conversions after every score. The Sharks stopped two of them — both Kall Daniel passes — en route to the playoffs.
Breakable moment: The Gators lost 28-16 at Pasco on Oct. 23 in a game it appeared primed to dominate early. Afterward, Gators coach Matt Kitchie declared Land O'Lakes would defeat Mitchell to make the playoffs, then survive the first round for another shot at Pasco. Kitchie has delivered on one promise.
Unbreakable: The Gators had to win at Mitchell on Nov. 6 to validate at least one of Kitchie's declarations. The 21-17 victory proved more difficult than expected. Land O'Lakes trailed twice in the fourth quarter before quarterback Stevie Weatherford connected with Will Irwin on a 24-yard touchdown to win.
Breakable moment: In a 4A-6 game Oct. 23 against Ridgewood, which eventually finished last in the district, the Cobras trailed 7-0 at the half, 14-7 after three quarters and 21-14 after a Rams score with 4:26 left. Even with a loss, Hudson could still make the playoffs, but its back certainly would have been against the wall.
Unbreakable response: Hudson quarterback Zack Wynn, who had an average night (by his standards) with 168 yards passing, stepped up and carried the Cobras. On the final drive, he completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards and hit receiver Mike Powers for a score with 1:05 left. Instead of kicking to force overtime, the Cobras went for two and got it when Wynn scored from 2 yards out to give the Cobras a 22-21 win. They clinched a playoff berth two weeks later, beating Wiregrass Ranch.