Saturday, February 17, 2018

Wharton faces key test Friday at Newsome


October marks the usual time of the season to find out which prep football teams have legitimate playoff shots. And that list includes a number of North of Tampa-area squads.

Look no further than Wharton, Sickles, Chamberlain and Cambridge.

A Wharton win Friday at Newsome would be a huge step heading into the second half of the season. Unbeaten and state-ranked Sickles, meanwhile, is looking to stay sharp with decisive games still to be played. Surprise team Chamberlain wants to stay perfect in its district, and high-scoring Cambridge needs another league win to stay within striking distance of league leaders.

And wins for Alonso, Gaither and Berkeley Prep could do wonders for those teams' postseason hopes as well.

Chamberlain hosts Blake, Alonso visits Bloomingdale and Sickles will play at Freedom. Berkeley Prep travels to Polk County to face Fort Meade while Gaither (vs. Wiregrass Ranch) and Cambridge (vs. Northside Christian) have home contests.

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

Alonso (3-2, 0-1) at Bloomingdale (2-2, 0-1)

Last week: Alonso defeated Spoto 56-14; Bloomingdale lost to Plant City 40-0.

Why you should go: Alonso fans know exactly what they're going to see — Ish Witter's running and Chris Oladokun's passing. Bloomingdale fans don't know if they'll see the Bulls team that scored 40 points against Plant two weeks ago or the team that was stomped 40-0 by Plant City last week.

Blake (2-3, 2-2) at Chamberlain (3-2, 3-0)

Last week: Blake lost to King 37-7; Chamberlain lost to Brandon 14-6.

Why you should go: To see Chamberlain's dynamic backfield duo of Dakarai Highsmith and Daishaun Roberts go up against an improved Blake squad. The Highsmith and Roberts show has the Chiefs unbeaten in Class 6A, District 8 play and in second place behind powerhouse Armwood. Plus, Chamberlain needs to continue winning games like this before the teeth of the league schedule (see previously mentioned Armwood, along with Hillsborough and Jefferson) arrives later this month.

Sickles (4-0, 1-0) at Freedom (1-4, 0-1)

Last week: Sickles was off; Freedom lost to Strawberry Crest 22-14.

Why you should go: To see bay area leading rusher Ray Ray McCloud continue his quest for 2,000 yards (801 yards already this season). Plus, the Class 7A, District 7-leading Gryphons want to keep pace with district foes Tampa Bay Tech and Gaither. Freedom played better in last week's loss but needs to up its 9-points-per-game average.

Wharton (4-1, 1-0) at Newsome (3-2, 0-1)

Last week: Wharton defeated East Bay 21-18; Newsome lost to Jesuit 28-21.

Why you should go: Because this matchup has the potential to be one of the better games of the night. Newsome is a tough running team that will challenge Wharton's defense, and its average margin of victory this season is 18 points. Wharton's defense is allowing 14 points per game.

Berkeley Prep (2-2, 0-1) at Fort Meade (4-1, 0-1), 7 p.m.

Last week: Berkeley Prep lost to Springstead 30-18; Fort Meade defeated Bartow 31-28.

Why you should go: The Buccaneers, who face slipping out of the Class 3A, District 4 race with a loss, should be ready to face a tough Fort Meade team. Speaking of tough, more than half of Berkeley's 3A-4 foes received votes in last week's state ranking: Tampa Catholic, Frostproof, Lakeland Christian and Fort Meade.

Tampa Bay Tech (3-1, 1-0) at Steinbrenner (1-3, 0-1)

Last week: TBT defeated Plant 14-7; Steinbrenner was off.

Why you should go: Steinbrenner had two weeks to prepare for this game, and Tech is coming off a big upset of Plant. Could the Warriors catch the Titans being overconfident? Look for the Steinbrenner duo of QB Curtis Fitch and WR Kezio Snelling to throw plenty in an upset attempt.

Northside Christian (1-3, 0-1) at Cambridge (3-2, 1-1)

Last week: Northside Christian was off; Cambridge defeated All Saints Academy 56-0.

Why you should go: Because all of a sudden, Cambridge has one of the most prolific offenses in the bay area. Behind QB Garrett Young (858 yards, 11 TDs), the Lancers are averaging 40 points per game. They are also in the middle of the crowded 2A-5 playoff race and a win would help.

Carrollwood Day School (2-3, 0-1) at Canterbury (5-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.

Last week: CDS lost to Admiral Farragut 49-35; Canterbury defeated St. Stephen's Episcopal 21-7.

Why you should go: To see how CDS fares in what likely is its toughest game so far this season. Canterbury is unbeaten and atop Class 2A, District 5. The Crusaders have an outstanding defense and an offense led by RB Sammy Faucette (500-plus yards of offense and 11 TDs in five games this year). CDS counters with WR Michael Smith, who is tops in Hillsborough County with 478 yards receiving on 17 catches with four TDs.

Jefferson (3-1, 2-1) at Leto (0-4, 0-4)

Last week: Jefferson lost to Armwood 28-9; Leto lost to Robinson 69-0.

Why you should go: Because Leto will show up and give it a go. The struggling Falcons will face a tall order, though, to keep pace with a Jefferson team coming off a 6A-8 loss to district leader Armwood. Jefferson needs a league win right now and the Falcons won't put up much of a fight.

Wiregrass Ranch (2-2, 0-1) at Gaither (2-3, 1-0)

Last week: Wiregrass Ranch was off; Gaither lost to Durant 26-0.

Why you should go: To see Gaither try to get back on track. The Cowboys have struggled mightily in losing two of their last three games, being outscored 105-15 in the process. Silver lining time: Gaither has outscored Wiregrass Ranch 69-7 in their last two meetings, both blowout Cowboy wins.

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