Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sports

Sickles, Plant, Tampa Catholic eye state berths

CITRUS PARK

Regardless of what happens from this point, the 2013 Sickles football team will go down as the most successful in the program's 16-year history. The Gryphons shut out East Bay, 27-0, last week to advance to Friday's Class 7A Region II finals at Kissimmee Osceola.

And as talented a running back as Ray Ray McCloud is, the Gryphons have been more than the Ray Ray show. Quarterback Isaac Holder has been a facilitator on offense and wideouts Chet Levay and Jaaron Barrett have been huge contributors.

The Josh Smith-led defense has been outstanding most of the season and the special teams has been huge — kicker Daniel Lezotte had nine points in the latest victory.

Opposing coaches have heaped nothing but praise on Sickles' program this season.

East Bay coach Frank LaRosa said Sickles' 11-1 mark was no fluke, and that his team was "outmuscled."

And even in the Gryphons' one loss this season, a last-minute decision to perennial state power Plant, Panthers coach Robert Weiner spoke highly of the Gryphons and especially McCloud.

"We've played a lot of great players in 10 years, and he's about as good as anyone we've ever played," Weiner said after Plant's 24-20 victory against Sickles in early October.

Still, coach Brian Turner and the Gryphons know a shot at real greatness is still a couple of wins away.

Besides Sickles, the Plant Panthers (10-1-1) are playing at Fort Pierce Central in the Class 8A, Region II final and Tampa Catholic (10-2) hosts Jacksonville Trinity Christian in the Class 3A state semifinals.

All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

CLASS 7A REGION II FINALS

Sickles (11-1) at Kissimmee Osceola (10-2)

Last week: Sickles defeated East Bay 27-0; Osceola defeated Lakeland Kathleen 28-14.

Why you should go: To see if the Sickles' dream season continues. Ray Ray McCloud is running inspired right now and has surpassed 2,000 yards this season with 26 touchdowns. He'll face a stout Kowboys defense coming off playoff wins against Lakeland and Kathleen that has yielded only 10 points a game this season. Osceola has posted three shutouts and held opponents to just one score three other times. If McCloud finds the running lanes clogged, look for QB Isaac Holder to get more passing attempts.

CLASS 8A REGION II FINALS

Plant (10-1-1) at Fort Pierce Central (11-1)

Last week: Plant defeated Orlando Dr. Phillips 24-23 in OT; Fort Pierce Central defeated Manatee 17-15.

Why you should go: Because Plant is going for its fifth state semifinal in the past six years. The Panthers needed plenty of magic in escaping a last-second loss to Dr. Phillips — instead tying the contest at the end of regulation and going on to an overtime win. The Panthers, owners of four state titles since 2006, will need to avoid turnovers and penalties Friday against a Central team that beat previously unbeaten Manatee last week.

CLASS 3A STATE SEMIFINALS

Jacksonville Trinity Christian (10-1) at Tampa Catholic (10-2)

Last week: Tampa Catholic defeated Melbourne Central Catholic 45-10; Trinity Christian defeated Ocala Trinity Catholic 48-17.

Why you should go: If Tampa Catholic wins, it may want to send a thank-you card to rival Jesuit. The Crusaders closed out the regular season with yet another loss to the Tigers three weeks ago. But since then, TC has been dominant, blasting two playoff opponents by a combined score of 97-24. It's hard to say for sure whether the loss to rival Jesuit alone sparked the Crusaders, but the defense has been solid and running back T.J. Harrell has been potent offensively. Meanwhile, Trinity Christian comes into the game with its own offensive credentials, scoring 40 points or more in five of its last six contests. The winner moves on to play for a state championship Dec. 7 in Orlando.

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