It's not that most of the games during the past three weeks had no meaning. It's just that starting tonight, pretty much all of the games will have meaning — especially when it comes to district standings. That means tonight's contests take on greater significance as several teams open their district slates. Gaither, Chamberlain, Steinbrenner and Freedom all open district play in Class 7A, District 7 while Hillsborough begins play in 6A-8.
Meanwhile, Cambridge (2A-5) and Blake (5A-8) are trying to make headway in their ongoing district races. Cambridge, 1-1 in district play and tied for third, needs a win against Northside Christian tonight to keep pace. Blake, winless in district play, just needs a victory as it hosts 5A-8 leader Jesuit. An interesting matchup outside the county, and the state for that matter, has Jefferson traveling to Ohio to face powerhouse St. Edward. Alonso, Plant and Wharton are off tonight.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Sickles (2-0) at King (1-2)
Last week: King lost to Alonso 38-34; Sickles defeated Wharton 38-21.
The Skinny: King has lost the last two games by a touchdown or less. The Lions blew a 15-point third quarter lead last week against Alonso, but after driving 82 yards with less than two minutes to play, King came up short. Sickles will counter with a stingy defense and the steady hand of QB Nate Mills.
Freedom (0-3) at Steinbrenner (2-1)
Last Week: Freedom lost to Brandon 29-22; Steinbrenner defeated Strawberry Crest 28-0.
The Skinny: Despite three first downs and just 5 yards rushing, Freedom somehow managed to hang in there and only lose by one touchdown to Brandon last week. That despite giving up more than 300 yards rushing. Steinbrenner, with its own solid running game, will attack on the ground as well in this Class 7A, District 7 opening game for both teams.
Gaither (1-2) at Wiregrass Ranch (0-3)
Last Week: Gaither lost to Plant City 21-7; Wiregrass lost to Pasco 53-0.
The Skinny: Turnovers and miscues continue to plague Gaither, which played hard in its loss to Plant City. Look for a solid performance from improving sophomore QB Alex McGough against a Wiregrass defense that has given up 109 points in three games. This is the 7A-7 opener for both teams.
Jesuit (2-1) at Blake (1-2)
Last Week: Jesuit defeated Robinson 21-7; Blake lost to Dunedin 19-18.
The Skinny: No doubt about it: Tommy Eveld is Jesuit's starting quarterback. Aaron Paulsen, who started the first two games at QB, went down last week with a knee injury. Eveld threw for 145 yards and led Jesuit to a key 5A-8 win against Robinson. Jesuit, 2-0 in 5A-8 and tied with Gibbs for the top district spot, needs to keep pace in district play. Blake (0-2 in the district) is coming off a tough 1-point 5A-8 loss to Dunedin.
Lake Highland Prep (1-2) at Berkeley Prep (3-0)
Last Week: Lake Highland Prep lost to American Heritage 24-17; Berkeley Prep defeated Naples Golden Gate 42-7.
The Skinny: Lake Highland is off to a sluggish start on both sides of the ball, although it was sharper in the loss to American Heritage. Berkeley, meanwhile, has been outstanding behind the play of QB Destin Nichols (8 TDs, no INTs this season) and RB-WR Nelson Agholor, who ran for 212 yards and scored four touchdowns last week. The Buccaneers are beating their opponents by an average of four touchdowns per game so far this year.
Tampa Catholic (2-0) at Bloomingdale (2-1)
Last week: Tampa Catholic defeated Zephyrhills 39-13; Bloomingdale lost to East Bay 28-26.
The skinny: Bloomingdale was 1 yard away from a school record 3-0 start, but fumbled at the goal line with time running out against the Indians. Either way, Bloomingdale has been one of the big stories so far this season, but a tough Crusaders team awaits tonight.
Leto (0-3) at Armwood (3-0)
Last week: Leto lost to Riverview 49-36; Armwood defeated Tampa Bay Tech 40-7.
The Skinny: It won't help the Falcons that University of Florida commitment Matt Jones could make his season debut for Armwood. Leto displayed some offensive pop last week, but will find it far more difficult against the Hawks and LB Eric Striker.
Tampa Bay Tech (1-2) at Chamberlain (0-2)
Last week: TBT lost to Armwood 40-7; Chamberlain lost to Wharton 20-17.
The Skinny: Don't let the records fool you — both of these teams are quality. Tech brings in quality runners in Cludner Lecount and Lamarq Caldwell. The Chiefs will counter with their own rusher in Xavier Johnson, who tallied more than 250 yards in the overtime loss to Wharton. This could shape up as the best game in the county tonight as the Titans and Chiefs open up their district schedules.
Shorecrest Prep (1-2) at Carrollwood Day (2-1) (4 p.m.)
Last Week: Shorecrest Prep lost to Calvary Christian 21-0; Carrollwood Day defeated Northside Christian 61-14.
The Skinny: Shorecrest is struggling offensively, with only 17 points in three games. That's not a good sign going up against CDS, which is averaging almost 50 points a game. Oh, and the Patriots can play a little defense, too.
Northside Christian (0-3) at Cambridge (2-1)
Last Week: Northside Christian lost to Carrollwood Day 61-14; Cambridge defeated Bradenton Christian 43-25.
The Skinny: Cambridge must be licking its chops coming into this Class 2A, District 5 matchup. Northside is 0-2 in district play and has the worst defense in the district. Cambridge (1-1 in district play) should jump into the middle of the race.
Times Correspondent Brandon Wright contributed to this report. Rod Gipson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.