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Northern Hillsborough football teams pumped for playoffs

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Alonso coach Mike Heldt said he and his team are pleased with their regular season and happy to be back in the playoffs.

At Jefferson, Dragons coach Mike Fenton said his team, specifically the defense, has gotten better all season.

Gaither played well enough in key games to punch their ticket to the playoffs.

And how could Chamberlain not enjoy its regular-season run? The team posted a dominant 9-1 mark through September, October and early November. Wharton and Alonso had outstanding regular seasons as well.

But none of that matters now.

With the regular season over, the northern Hillsborough teams playing in tonight's opening round of the playoffs fully realize the situation: Win or go home.

Still, optimism abounds.

"We're trying to tune things up, and we're peaking at the right time," Fenton said after Jefferson's 27-7 win over Middleton. "Our defense is getting better every week. To win championships and get deep in the playoffs, you have to have a good defense and I think that's what we're building here."

Jefferson (6-4) will need that solid defense as it opens the Class 4A postseason on the road at Bradenton Southeast (8-2).

In Class 5A, teams from northern Hillsborough match up with familiar foes: Chamberlain (9-1) hosts Gaither (4-6), and Alonso (7-3) plays at Wharton (8-2).

Chamberlain, making its 10th straight playoff appearance, defeated Gaither 24-8 in the second round of the playoffs a year ago.

Wharton, meanwhile, lost its first two games of the season before cruising to eight straight wins and a district title.

The Wildcats are trying to erase the memory of a first-round exit in the playoffs last season.

Alonso is back in the postseason after narrowly missing out last season.

Kickoffs are 7:30 p.m.

5A REGION QUARTERFINALS

Alonso (7-3) at Wharton (8-2)

Regular season: Alonso quarterback C.J. Bennett was the top passer in Hillsborough County, completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,534 yards and 25 touchdowns. Alonso has five different receivers that caught at least 25 passes. Wharton, meanwhile, moved the ball well this season. The Wildcats, led by QB Andrew Clifford (15 touchdown passes), scored more than 40 points three times and only scored less than 28 points once.

Last time in the playoffs: Wharton lost to Chamberlain 26-25 in the 2007 Class 5A region quarterfinals. In 2006, Alonso lost 17-10 to Gaither in the 5A region quarterfinals.

The skinny: As good as both teams' offenses are, they also have defensive stars. Wharton safety Jairus Jones had a team-best 101 tackles and four interceptions. Alonso is led defensively by DT Demonte McAllister, who had 18 sacks to go with his 67 tackles.

The edge: Both offenses are capable of scoring points, so this contest will come down to who can play better defense. Wharton should be able to slow down Bennett a bit, and the Wildcats have been in more big games. Wharton wins.

Gaither (4-6) at Chamberlain (9-1)

Regular season: Gaither went through a rough campaign, starting the season 1-3. Still, the Cowboys put together wins in key district matchups to gain a playoff spot. Gaither running back Jarvis Giles missed the first two games with injuries but came back to rush for 900-plus yards and 13 touchdowns. Chamberlain has been a steamroller all season long, lead by quarterback Dontae Aycock (11 touchdown passes, 1,045 yards rushing and 21 TD runs).

Last time in the playoffs: Gaither lost 24-8 to Chamberlain in the opening round last year. Chamberlain advanced to the Class 5A region finals last season before losing 14-7 to Kissimmee Osceola.

The skinny: Dating back to the beginning of the 2007 season, Chamberlain is 3-0 against Gaither. Chamberlain averaged five touchdowns a game this year as RB Kenny Allen ran for 1,046 yards and WR Anthony Williams caught nine touchdown passes.

The edge: Gaither closed the season with losses in three of its last four games, including a 10-point loss to Alonso — the same Alonso team Chamberlain defeated by 14 points. Chamberlain may be headed to the state title game, and this is the first step.

CLASS 4A REGION QUARTERFINALS

Jefferson (6-4) at Bradenton Southeast (8-2)

Regular season: Playing arguably the toughest schedule in the county, Jefferson managed a winning record and a playoff berth. And sophomore quarterback Quentin Williams was outstanding, throwing for 2,267 yards and 15 touchdowns. Defensive-minded Southeast, whose only losses came against Manatee and Lakewood, had a five-game winning streak during the middle of the season.

Last time in the playoffs: Last season, Jefferson beat Boca Ciega, 34-16, in the opening round but lost, 40-14, to Plant in the 4A region semifinals. In 2006, Southeast fell to Jefferson, 31-28, in the opening round of the postseason.

The skinny: The Dragons' tough schedule has prepared them for tough competition. Three of Jefferson's four losses were to playoff teams. The Seminoles, meanwhile, have a top-notch defense that posted three shutouts and allowed more than 16 points only once.

The edge: Something has to give. Southeast is an outstanding defensive team, and Jefferson loves to throw the ball. If Williams can move the ball around to his stable of receivers and backs and the Dragons can avoid penalties, Jefferson should be able to leave Bradenton with a win.

Northern Hillsborough football teams pumped for playoffs 11/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 1:55pm]

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