By ROD GIPSON | Times Correspondent
As the prep football season nears its halfway mark, several key contests are taking place tonight that will likely go a long way toward deciding who will reach the postseason. Granted, there's still almost a month and a half of regular season ball to be played, but for teams like Cambridge, Jefferson, Robinson, Hillsborough, Carrollwood Day and Jesuit, tonight is huge as far as establishing — or solidifying — their place in the district standings.
Despite having already played this season, Jesuit and Robinson continue to battle each other in the Class 5A, District 8 standings. Robinson (2-1 in 5A-8) fell to Jesuit (3-0) two weeks ago and must now try to keep pace with the Tigers. Robinson hosts Blake tonight while Jesuit hosts Spoto.
The most interesting nondistrict matchup pits Brandon against undefeated Sickles. Despite a losing record, the Eagles may prove a difficult test for the Gryphons because of their talented skill players.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Brandon (1-2) at Sickles (3-0) .
LAST WEEK: Brandon lost to Durant 36-24; Sickles defeated King 49-23.
THE SKINNY: It's difficult to determine Brandon's mind-set after the team watched its come-from-behind effort slip away in the final minutes against Durant last week. Sickles, meanwhile, after playing just well enough to win in its first two games, broke out for almost 50 points last week. Running backs LaDondra Crittenden and Yhaquille Grant have led the way with a combined 500 yards on the season for the bruising Gryphons.
Hillsborough (3-1) at Leto (0-4)
LAST WEEK: Hillsborough defeated Strawberry Crest 43-0; Leto lost to Armwood 68-0.
THE SKINNY: After a defeat at the hands of nationally ranked Armwood (MaxPrep's No. 2 team) to start the Class 6A, District 8 gantlet, Leto has another tall order in Hillsborough. The Terriers (1-0 in 6A-8), have posted shutouts in two of their three wins. If only Leto could convince the Terriers to look ahead to Hillsborough's showdown with Jefferson next week.
Freedom (0-4) at Alonso (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Freedom lost to Steinbrenner 13-6; Alonso defeated King 38-34 on Sept. 16.
THE SKINNY: To say Freedom has struggled offensively is an understatement. The Patriots have mustered a little less than 600 yards of offense in four games. Still, they were in their last two games until well into the fourth quarter. They'll need another strong effort against Alonso, which is undefeated. The Ravens have been boosted by a running game led by Brandon Holloway's 256 yards and four TDs in three games.
Chamberlain (2-2) at Newsome (2-2)
Last week: The Chiefs lost to Tampa Bay Tech 38-14; Newsome defeated East Bay 49-21.
The skinny: Newsome has yet to surrender less than 21 points in a game this year, but its bend-but-don't-break defense has served the team well against some stiff early-season competition. Both teams bring in potent rushing attacks with the Wolves' Conner Powers and the Chiefs' Xavier Johnson.
Wharton (1-2) at Durant (2-1)
Last week: Wharton lost to Chamberlain 20-17 on Sept. 16; Durant defeated Brandon 36-24.
The skinny: Durant picked up a big district win last week against Brandon and faces Wharton before another huge district game against Plant City next week. If Durant looks ahead, it may get burned by the Wildcats' Chase Litton, one of the best quarterbacks in the county.
King (1-3) at Strawberry Crest (0-4)
Last week: King lost to Sickles 49-23; Strawberry Crest lost to Hillsborough 42-0.
The skinny: Will Strawberry Crest win a game this season? Don't look for it this week against a potent King offense. The Chargers only hope is to outscore the Lions and a defense that has allowed 43.3 points in the last three games.
Spoto (1-2) at Jesuit (3-1)
LAST WEEK: Spoto defeated Middleton 20-6; Jesuit defeated Blake 35-0.
THE SKINNY: Spoto gained its first win of the season after having to forfeit a win for using an ineligible player this month against Riverview. Spoto (1-1 in district play) may have a tougher task adding a Class 5A, District 8 win against a Jesuit squad that is already out to a 3-0 lead and first-place position in the district race. Jesuit QB Tommy Eveld is coming off a 288-yard, three TD passing performance.
Tampa Catholic (3-0) at Lake Highland Prep (1-3)
LAST WEEK: Tampa Catholic defeated Bloomingdale 33-14; Lake Highland Prep lost to Berkeley Prep 35-0.
THE SKINNY: Tampa Catholic hit upon its primary strength in a big win against Bloomingdale: its running game. Backs Corey Bennett and Jordan Rich-Rogers led a 352-yard Crusaders running effort. Lake Highland has lost three games in a row, by increasing margins each week. The Highlanders can expect a steady dose of that TC rushing attack tonight.
Berkeley Prep (4-0) at Lennard (1-3)
LAST WEEK: Berkeley Prep defeated Lake Highland Prep 35-0; Lennard lost to Robinson 42-14.
The skinny: The Bucs are jumping up two classifications to face Lennard, and word out of West Tampa is this team is for real. Berkeley's versatile offensive threat Nelson Agholor has more than 500 yards of offense and 11 TDs in four games this season. Lennard's lone win has come against a hapless Middleton club, and it has been outscored 71-27 in its three losses this year.
Admiral Farragut (3-1) at Carrollwood Day (3-1)
LAST WEEK: Admiral Farragut defeated Keswick Christian 21-13; Carrollwood Day defeated Shorecrest Prep 47-10.
THE SKINNY: This is a big Class 2A, District 5 contest with the loser likely out of the race. Admiral Farragut (1-1 in district play) is one banged-up squad with injuries to its starting running back, receiver, left tackle and linebacker. CDS is nursing its own injuries as standout running back Robert Davis has a sore shoulder. Still, Davis and the Patriots (1-1 in 2A-5) have outscored opponents 108-24 during their two-game winning streak.
Indian Rocks Christian (4-0) at Cambridge (3-1)
LAST WEEK: IRC defeated Bradenton Christian 42-28; Cambridge defeated Northside Christian 36-7.
THE SKINNY: If Cambridge wants to make a serious run at its first-ever playoff berth, this Class 2A, District 5 game is a must-win. IRC leads the league at 3-0 and has been dominant in the process. Cambridge QB Phillip Johnson has been steady in guiding the county's top offense (1,454 total yards) to two wins in three district games so far this season.
Times Corres Correspondent Brandon Wright contributed to this report.