TAMPA — Gaither and Jefferson are in similar boats.
Victims of brutal scheduling, the Dragons and Cowboys are off to slow starts this season, identical to last. Jefferson is 1-1, with its loss coming in an opening night 30-23 thriller to Hillsborough. Gaither started 0-2, losing by a combined 94-20 to powerhouses Chamberlain and Plant.
Now, after breaking into the win column, both Gaither and Jefferson are poised to turn around their seasons, much like last year. But one team must do it at the expense of another as the foes square off tonight.
Gaither overcame its 0-2 start in 2007 to go on to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. Jefferson won just four regular season games, but still found itself celebrating a playoff win last November.
Gaither topped Freedom 17-14 last week on a 28-yard field goal by Darren Domaracki at the buzzer.
Jefferson was off last week, but beat Robinson 27-7 the week before.
The Cowboys have had to make due so far this season without all-everything tailback and University of Tennessee-commit Jarvis Giles.
Slowed by a leg injury, Giles is expected back for the Jefferson game.
The Dragons, meanwhile, will counter with sophomore quarterback Quentin Williams and running back Terence Doston.In other contests, Freedom ventures into Class 4A, District 11 play by hosting unbeaten Tampa Bay Tech, Sickles travels to Wharton and Alonso hosts Leto. All games begin at 7:30 p.m.
Leto (1-2) at Alonso (2-1)
Last Week: Leto lost to Robinson 20-16; Alonso defeated Blake 26-10.
Last Year: Alonso defeated Leto, 21-9.
The Skinny: Leto has managed to do some things offensively but has struggled on defense. That's not good news going up against Alonso and quarterback C.J. Bennett, who has thrown for more than 600 yards and seven touchdowns in three games so far.
The Edge: Bennett and all-state defender Demonte McAllister lead the Ravens to a big win.
Blake (0-3) at Chamberlain (3-0)
Last Week: Blake lost to Alonso 26-10; Chamberlain defeated Hillsborough 48-21.
Last Year: Chamberlain defeated Blake, 28-0.
The Skinny: Hmm, a Blake team struggling to score points (3.3 points per game average) going up a Chamberlain team ranked third in the state in Class 5A averaging seven touchdowns per game.
The Edge: Chamberlain.
Tampa Bay Tech (3-0) at Freedom (1-1)
Last Week: Tech def. Sickles 21-10; Freedom lost to Gaither 17-14.
Last Year: Tech defeated Freedom, 19-0.
The Skinny: Tampa Bay Tech is not hard to figure out. Bruising running back Maurice Hagens and quarterback Angel Rodriguez run and run and run. Can any defense stop them? Freedom has played decent defense in both of its games. This will be their stiffest test of the young season.
The Edge: The Titans keep the steamroller going, running past the Patriots.
Gaither (1-2) at Jefferson (1-1)
Last Week: Gaither defeated Freedom 17-14; Jefferson was off.
Last Year: Gaither defeated Jefferson, 27-17.
The Skinny: The who-wants-it-more bowl. Gaither saved its season last year with its win against the Dragons that helped propel it to the playoffs. Jefferson is viewing the game the same way.
The Edge: In a contest of playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Dragons will find a few more. Jefferson takes it.
Sickles (0-3) at Wharton (1-2)
Last Week: Sickles lost to Tampa Bay Tech 21-10; Wharton defeated East Bay 22-19.
Last Year: Sickles defeated Wharton, 21-14.
The Skinny: The Gryphons have held leads in all three of their contests this season — and all have turned into losses. Wharton may have saved its season last week with its upset victory against a favored East Bay team.
The Edge: Wharton's defense won't allow Sickles to move the ball a lot and its offense should do just enough. Wharton gets back to .500 with the victory.