Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

Tampa football teams have high hopes for playoffs

TAMPA — It's playoff time, folks.

It's no surprise that the field includes Plant, Robinson and Hillsborough. And Tampa Bay Tech has grown accustomed to making the postseason in recent years.

Add a very sound Tampa Catholic to the mix, and you have five central/south Tampa squads that all have hopes of going deep.

All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Class 8A: Orlando Freedom (7-3) at Plant (9-1)

This one might look like a cakewalk based on the teams' respective playoff histories, but Freedom is talented. While Plant has a stunning stretch of four state titles in the last decade, Freedom is beginning just its second trip to the postseason.

But this season's Freedom team won seven straight at one point, and gave top-ranked Dr. Phillips a decent contest before falling 27-14.

The Panthers come in buoyed by last week's 26-24 win against Robinson, where quarterback Aaron Banks rallied Plant for a go-ahead drive.

Plant fans who also happen to pull for USF will want to watch for Bulls' commit Jeff Badet, Freedom's all-county receiver. Senior Kevin Maurice is the defensive standout and Lee Grant is a danger from both the receiver and defensive back positions.

Speaking of Dr. Phillips, that's the team Plant would likely meet next week if it wins. Dr. Phillips (10-0) is taking on Wharton in the opposite region quarterfinal.

Class 7A: Tampa Bay Tech (7-3) at Durant (10-0)

The Titans face a very like-minded team in the Cougars. Both teams love to pound the ball right at you. Durant's fullback, Jamarlon Hamilton, has surprising breakaway ability, while Chris Atkins is the speedster who generally gets the ball on the edges.

However, it would be unfair to label TBT a one-dimensional offense, as sophomore Deon Cain averages around 140 yards passing per contest.

Richard Benjamin is the rarity for the Titans, a player that leads his team in both rushing and receiving yards.

Durant went undefeated for the first time in school history, and some predict the Cougars can surpass their best year, a state semifinal performance in 2003.

Class 6A: Osceola (7-3) at Hillsborough (8-1)

Hillsborough has put together one of the most solid campaigns of any area team, but for some reason have slipped under the radar. Again this week, the opponent is really more of a "story" because of how the Warriors got into the playoffs.

Osceola started off the season 1-3, but then, admittedly against a weak schedule, piled up six wins in a row. With a wing T offense, the Warriors average nearly 40 points a game. And Hillsborough won't be able to key in on one running back due to the Warriors' rotation. Then again, Hillsborough's defense is stout, boasting a shutout of Armwood to its credit.

And Dwayne Wilson has quietly become a steady leader at quarterback for the Terriers, who should win even if it means enduring some frustrating moments.

Should it advance, Hillsborough's second-round matchup will a barn-burner either way. The Terriers would host either Armwood or undefeated Largo.

Class 5A: Port Orange Atlantic (8-2) at Robinson (9-1)

So, is it possible that the Knights could suffer their first loss after a 9-0 start, and have that loss be the most impressive result of their 10 games?

Absolutely. Head coach Mike DePue, going into his final playoff stretch, surely doesn't want to hear it, but a last-minute 26-24 loss to Plant should be reason to get excited. That's because, theoretically, Robinson won't play as good a team in the 5A playoffs.

Atlantic got pulled into a three-way tiebreaker when it lost to Lake Nona in Week 9, but then three days later dominated the same team 14-0 in the quarter that sent the Sharks to the postseason. In that quarter, they intercepted Tucker Israel, central Florida's leading passer, twice.

Does that give Robinson cause for concern? A little, but the only concern here would be overconfidence. The Knights are, plain and simple, a better team. And as long as they aren't looking ahead to what they expect will be a second-round showdown with district rival Lakewood, they should win comfortably.

Alex Bell is Atlantic's dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 180 yards and running for 105 more in a tuneup win last week.

Class 3A: Tampa Catholic (7-3) at Fort Meade (8-2)

Tampa Catholic enters the playoffs on a bit of a down note, having lost to rival Jesuit 17-3 last week. Then again, that makes 13 straight defeats in the series, so Tampa Catholic should at least be accustomed to it.

And, of course, they left that game knowing their season would continue while the Tigers were done.

Tampa Catholic fans no doubt have their eyes on a possible second-round rematch with Clearwater Central Catholic, which humbled the then-undefeated Crusaders 27-7 in early October.

As for tonight's opponent, the Miners' 8-2 record was legitimate, with a narrow loss to Class 7A team Ridge Community. And if rankings mean anything, the Miners were seventh in the most recent 3A poll.

Fort Meade is not spectacular, just very good. And it's balanced, with quarterback Jay Smith throwing for about 100 yards a game and D.J. Clark (725 yards) and sophomore Ryan Fulse (484) behind him. Fort Meade certainly has history, winning the 1A state title in 2004 and making the finals as recently as four years ago.

If Tampa Catholic can avoid getting rattled by the unique environment at Frank S. Battle Field, the Crusaders should advance and likely head to CCC.

Comments
Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

TAMPA – Early in his rookie year, Doug Martin was told he was losing his balance because he was dropping his head as he hit the hole in a game at Oakland.He quickly corrected that mistake and wound up rushing for a career-high 251 yards against...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Stakes high as USF women host Houston

Stakes high as USF women host Houston

If your alma mater or college of choice has bona fide NCAA Tournament aspirations, the final days of February possess pennant race-style tension.So it is with the 18th-ranked USF women, whose 7 p.m. home game tonight against Houston has big bracketol...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Steven Souza trade: Instant reaction to the Rays latest deal

Steven Souza trade: Instant reaction to the Rays latest deal

The Rays traded right fielder Steven Souza, Jr., their 2017 team MVP, to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night in a three-team deal for Arizona's No. 2 prospect, lefty Anthony Banda, Yankees infield prospect Nick Solak and two players to be named...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays trade team MVP Steven Souza Jr. in three-team deal that nets prospects

Rays trade team MVP Steven Souza Jr. in three-team deal that nets prospects

PORT CHARLOTTE — Evan Longoria traded in December. Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson dumped over the weekend. Then, in a stunning move Tuesday night, 2017 team MVP Steven Souza Jr. shipped to Arizona as part of a three-team deal that netted onl...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Girls basketball: Resilient Carrollwood Day back in state semis

Girls basketball: Resilient Carrollwood Day back in state semis

SEFFNER — Tarriyonna Gary's sprained ankle was not in one of those bulky, protective, doctor-proscribed plastic boots Tuesday night.Not even close.Gary, in fact, was not only running up and down the floor, but she was leaping and diving and, pe...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Girls basketball: Lakewood edges closer to state return

ST. PETERSBURG — Paris Williams scored 17 points to lead Lakewood 64-38 past Bradenton Southeast in their Class 6A, Region 3 semifinal Tuesday.Lakewood (25-4) will host Robinson in the region final Friday. Last year the Spartans beat the K...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Girls basketball: Rebounding edge keeps Clearwater on top

Girls basketball: Rebounding edge keeps Clearwater on top

CLEARWATER — The result was expected but definitely didn't come easily.In Tuesday's Class 7A region semifinal, underdog Northeast threw some strong low-post defense against a lethargic Clearwater squad early, then rode effective offensive energ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Nikita Kucherov’s trick shot sends Lightning past Capitals

Nikita Kucherov’s trick shot sends Lightning past Capitals

WASHINGTON — There was some lighthearted debate in the Lightning dressing room Tuesday night about whether the latest dazzling breakaway move by Nikita Kucherov was a deliberate fake or a slip off the stick.Some teammates playfully gave the All...
Updated: 8 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Feb. 20

Tuesday’s scoreboardSoftballAdmiral Farragut 17, St. Petersburg Cath. 0BaseballGulf Coast HEAT 9, Canterbury 4Calvary Chr. 6, Lakeland Chr. 1
Updated: 9 hours ago

Girls basketball: Tampa Bay Tech pulls away late

TAMPA — When Jalyn Spurlin played for Brandon High her first two seasons, she felt "like I had to be everything; everything was on me."Since transferring to Tampa Bay Tech, a team with seven seniors, including Division I-A-bound Janae...
Updated: 9 hours ago