By BRANDON WRIGHT | Times Correspondent
Get your popcorn ready, Seffner.
The yearly tilt against the boys from South Tampa goes down tonight when Plant visits Armwood. Both undefeated and on their way to the postseason, this game should serve as a good barometer of what each needs to work on in the next few weeks before the playoffs begin.
For the first time in recent memory, the Hawks' vaunted defense will not have to face Robert Marve, Aaron Murray or Phillip Ely — all major Division 1 recruits — under center. How first-year starter James Few handles the Hawks' pressure will be the key for Plant.
But the Hawks and Panthers aren't the only ticket in town. Brandon, Durant, East Bay and Newsome are all trying to figure out which one of those four 7A-8 teams will join likely district champ Plant City in the postseason.
Brandon (3-4) at Plant City (7-0)
LAST WEEK: Brandon defeated Riverview 35-14; Plant City defeated East Bay 43-36.
THE SKINNY: At 2-1 in the district, Brandon is still in the playoff hunt. But the Eagles will have to upset the Raiders tonight, beat a surprisingly good East Bay team next week and get some help. Last week's squeaker against East Bay came on the heels of the Raiders 9-7 win the previous week against Alonso.
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 one Armwood has ever had.
East Bay (3-4) at Durant (5-2)
LAST WEEK: East Bay lost to Plant City 43-36; Durant defeated Newsome 33-14.
THE SKINNY: The upstart Indians have all but erased the memory of a 1-9 2010. Yes, the Indians lost last week but more than held their own against a super-talented Plant City squad. East Bay still has an outside shot at the postseason, but it has a tough road ahead with Durant tonight and Brandon up next.
Spoto (3-4) at Lennard (1-7)
LAST WEEK: Spoto lost to Robinson 35-14; Lennard lost to Blake 32-7.
THE SKINNY: Spoto's playoff aspirations are dwindling after last week's loss to the Knights. The Spartans, trailing the final postseason spot by two games, would need to win out in district and get some help from Lakewood and Robinson's opposition.
Riverview (2-5) at Newsome (3-4)
LAST WEEK: Riverview lost to Brandon 35-14; Durant defeated Newsome 33-14.
THE SKINNY: The Sharks have lost five in a row, and the Wolves are on a two-game slide of their own. Newsome isn't out of the playoff race yet, but it will need to win tonight (which shouldn't be a problem) and beat streaking Plant City (a much bigger problem) next week to even have a shot.
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 a 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.
Times Correspondent Rod Gipson contributed to this report. Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.