SEFFNER — The lights of Friday night will shine brightly around Hillsborough County this evening as the opening round of the Florida High School Athletics Association playoffs begin.
But for Seffner Christian, it's all about Saturday.
The Crusaders will play at 6 p.m. for the Sunshine State Athletic Conference championship at Master's Academy in Oviedo. Seffner Christian reached the title game of the non-FHSAA affiliated conference by defeating First Academy 41-11 last Friday.
"To win in the fashion they did is pretty exciting," Seffner Christian athletic director Andy Holmes said. "We're looking into getting some fan buses to go over there (Saturday). The program's just grown leaps and bounds in a short time."
It was the first postseason win for Seffner Christian in school history. The Crusaders, in just their third year of football, will enter the FHSAA next season. With a 5-4 record, they finished above .500 for the second straight year.
"We've come a long way and I think it all starts in the weight room," Holmes said. "Coach (Steve) Lewis has had great support from out assistant coaches and we've been able to get guys into the system for a few years now."
Seffner Christian and Master's Academy haven't played each other this season, but the Crusaders defeated the Eagles 23-3 last year. The Eagles also beat the Crusaders semifinal opponents, First Academy, 32-14 this season. All this bodes well for a Crusaders' team looking to pull off another first — a conference championship.
"I think the matchup favors us," Holmes said. "Even though it's only been three years, sometimes it feels like forever ago because of how far this program has come."
Armwood (7-3) at Largo (10-0)
Last week: Armwood defeated King 19-8 on Nov. 2; Largo defeated Gibbs 37-14.
The team: Armwood has had a tough season by its lofty standards, losing three regular season for the first time since 2002. … That was also the last time the Hawks didn't advance past the region semifinals. … Florida recruit Alvin Bailey had 40 catches for 658 yards and nine TDs, all team highs. … Leon McQuay III leads the team with four INTs and teams with Kyle Gibson to give the Hawks an excellent pair of safeties. … Senior Zeric Coleman leads the Hawks with five sacks.
The opponent: Largo is ranked No. 6 in 6A and finished with a perfect regular season. … The Packers pose a difficult first-round matchup for Armwood with a balanced offensive attack. … Juwan Brown finished the season 100-of-138 for 1,610 yards and 22 TDs. Brown also went the entire season without throwing an interception and added 389 yards rushing. The Packers can also run the ball, led by Jarvis Stewart's 1,186 yards and 16 TDs. … The Packers' defense has only given up more than 14 points once this season.
Seffner Christian (5-4) at Oviedo Masters Academy (6-3)
Last week: Seffner Christian defeated Leesburg First Academy 41-11; Masters Academy defeated Seven Rivers Christian 41-0.
The team: Seffner Christian has reached the Sunshine State Athletic Conference championship game in its first year in the conference. In only its third season, the team has managed to finish over .500 twice. … The Crusaders are paced by quarterback Skyler Clark and running back Seth Lewis on offense. … Lewis also plays on defense and gets substantial help from Nate Smith, the team's leading tackler.
The opponent: Oviedo Masters should have played unbeaten Landmark Christian in the conference semifinal last week, but Landmark was disqualified after scheduling too many regular season games. That pushed Seven Rivers into the conference semifinal. … Masters is averaging more than 44 points a game during its three game winning streak.
Tampa Bay Tech (7-3) at Durant (10-0)
Last week: Tampa Bay Tech defeated Plant City 28-13; Durant defeated King 31-0.
The team: Durant, ranked No. 6 in the state in 7A, ran the regular-season table for the first time in school history. … The Cougars had just one win decided by less than 10 points (a 13-12 victory against Wharton on Sept. 28). … Durant topped the 30-point mark six times on the season and pitched four shutouts on defense. … Senior defensive back Randy Baker led the Cougars with 71 tackles and tied for the team lead with two INTs while Dontriel Perry collected a team-best five sacks.
The opponent: Antonio Guerad led the Titans with six sacks while Micah Tucker added five. … TBT has an excellent secondary and totaled 15 INTs on the year, led by four each from Justin Akins and Benjamin.
Newsome (6-4) at Gaither (8-2)
Last week: Newsome defeated Bloomingdale 41-7; Gaither defeated Riverview 34-24.
The team: After dropping their first three games of the season, the Wolves went 6-1 the rest of the way out and returned to the postseason after missing out last year. … Although Newsome primarily runs, Worth is a capable thrower and especially effective on play action if the running game is working. Worth finished the regular season 51-of-102 for 816 yards and eight TDs. … Worth, who doubles as a linebacker, also led Newsome with 82 tackles. … Jacques Braggs paces Newsome with three sacks and Aaron Wade leads the team with three INTs.
The opponent: Gaither will look to air the ball out behind quarterback Alex McGough (99-of-171 for 1,541 yards, 20 TDs and four INTs). … McGough has a trio of options — Marcus Brown, Vu Le and Shug Oyegunle — who have at least 20 receptions on the season. … Gaither's Matthew Williams, Logan Marshall and Jamari Cord all have more than 100 tackles on the season but will be tested by the Wolves' running game.