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Sunlake, River Ridge looking toward better days

LAND O'LAKES — Sunlake three-way senior Chris Harrington was asked to ponder what the postgame celebration would be like if the Seahawks defeated River Ridge for the program's inaugural triumph Friday.

"Did you happen to watch the UCLA game (Monday) night? Ten times like that," Harrington said, referring to the Bruins' overtime triumph over Tennessee. "It's going to be amazing."

Regardless of which stadium local fans step into Friday night, they're bound to see kids stoked out of their cleats. This is, after all, the commencement of the regular season, the real deal. It's the payoff for months of cardiovascular toil in purgatorial Florida heat.

But if you want intrigue — and, perhaps, some history — with your intensity, the North Suncoast's ideal venue may be Sunlake.

Yes, Sunlake. For one night, the area's two weakest programs, in terms of wins and losses, go into a game each has a realistic chance of winning. Truth be told, it may be their only realistic chance. At least on paper.

"We've gone in with the theory they're expecting to beat us," River Ridge coach Tim Stevens said, "and they probably feel like they can."

Sunlake, with no seniors and no real business playing a varsity schedule, was winless in its first season last year. River Ridge won once, a 50-0 triumph over the Seahawks in both teams' opener, to snap the program's 23-game skid.

"They anticipate us being the team we were last year; we're not," Seahawks coach Bill Browning said. "We look to be competitive with them."

How much more competitive? Hard to say. Sunlake was trounced 51-6 by Wildwood in last week's preseason classic, but the Class 2B Wildcats are a perennial playoff contender.

"We're more cohesive than we were last year," Browning said. "I know the score doesn't look like we're improved, but that's probably the most talented team we'll play this year other than Pasco."

Whereas the Seahawks were outskilled by Wildwood, they'll be clearly outsized by the Knights. River Ridge likely will employ a power running game featuring 230-pound fullback Trevor Shoun and an offensive line averaging 265 pounds.

But River Ridge lost its preseason classic 7-3 to Lecanto, which has lost 25 consecutive regular-season games.

"We thought we played pretty physical and we thought we outplayed them, but then again, there were the mistakes, shooting ourselves in the foot," Stevens said. "We felt we were a better team, but we have to learn we're not talented enough to show up and beat people."

What both teams lack in talent they'll atone for in zeal. This week the Seahawks and Knights represent a harbinger of hope for each other. For a pair of programs that see very little sunlight, this is a veritable sun bowl.

"One of us," Browning said, "will be happy Friday night."

Sunlake, River Ridge looking toward better days 09/03/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 6:25pm]

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