Team of the Week
Before this season, Cambridge Christian had never even made a playoff appearance in 12 seasons as a program. After a 36-32 win against Admiral Farragut, the Lancers are one victory from the Class 2A state title game.
Late in the game against the Blue Jackets, though, it seemed as if Cambridge Christian's best season yet was coming to an end.
Admiral Farragut took an 18-point lead with just more than two minutes to play in the third quarter, but Cambridge scored 22 consecutive points to rally for the unexpected victory. Sophomore running back Andrew Cunningham had 127 yards rushing on 18 carries, including the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Cambridge remains one of five undefeated teams (along with Armwood, CCC, Nature Coast, and Jesuit) in Tampa Bay, and its 12 wins are already four more than the school has ever had in a single season.
"It's crazy," Cunningham said. "God has really blessed us. If we keep on striving and working hard we can go all the way."
Player of the Week
DeShawn Smith, Nature Coast: Things are supposed to get tougher once the playoffs roll around, but Smith keeps making it all look easy. Smith, a 3,000-yard back who has the national record for touchdowns in a season, rushed for 445 yards in a 42-33 region semifinal win over River Ridge.
His first carry of the game went for 80 yards and a touchdown. He ended up scoring all six of the Sharks' touchdowns. Only Smith could make River Ridge running back Chris Schwarz's night a secondary note. Schwarz rushed for 267 yards and set the Pasco County career rushing record with 5,365 yards.
"Sometimes you have to just step back and watch (him)," Nature Coast coach Jason Worden said.
Smith has led the Sharks (12-0) to their first undefeated season, first region final berth and most wins by a Hernando County school in a season.
He has done it going up against some impressive running backs in the playoffs. First, Smith squared off against 2,000-yard rusher Antwione Sims of Zephyrhills in the 5A region quarterfinals. This past week was the matchup vs. Schwarz that featured the state's leading running backs in rushing yards the past two seasons.
Now, comes another meeting with a 2,000-yard back. This time it's Green Cove Springs Clay's Bilal Ally, who rushed for 496 yards and five touchdowns (six total) in a 65-58 win over North Marion.
Coach of the Week
John Davis, Clearwater Central Catholic: In his second stint as coach of the Marauders, Davis has steadily built a consistent powerhouse. CCC entered this season having made three straight state semifinal appearances, including the program's first state title game in 2013.
There was some rebuilding to do if the Marauders were going to keep that streak alive. CCC graduated a good chunk of its starting lineup and played most of this season with a roster of 28 players, only four of whom are senior starters.
Davis made the most of his young, and versatile, lineup, moving players around to find the right pieces in another championship puzzle.
The result: a 12-0 season, the Marauders' first unbeaten one in school history and another appearance in the state semifinals after a 46-14 victory over Fort Pierce John Carroll.
Now, CCC gets another shot at Delray Beach American Heritage. Last year, the Stallions beat CCC 63-13 in the state semis. CCC is healthier this year, and that's a credit to Davis.
A long wait is over
Plant City High School, which opened in 1914, is one of the oldest in Hillsborough County. But the Raiders' football tradition hasn't been nearly as rich as the rest of its history.
With a 35-19 win against Tampa Bay Tech, Plant City began to change that.
The Raiders' victory against their district rival in the 7A region semifinal was the first time the program had ever won a second-round playoff game. Since FHSAA playoff records began in 1963, Plant City has made 10 playoff appearances, including once in seven of the last 10 seasons. Before this year, though, the Raiders had only won a playoff game twice (1998, 1999).
Getting a milestone under its belt, coach Greg Meyer predicted Wednesday after practice, was sure to be a momentous occasion — not only for the school, but for the entire community.
"If we're fortunate enough to win Friday night, this will be the best season this school has ever had. For a school that's been around for 100 years, that's a big deal. It's not lost on the community at all," Meyer said. "A lot of Plant City kids tend to come back, a lot of these guys are second- and third-generation kids. These are stories that will be told for a long time."
All games at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is $8.
Bradenton Braden River at Plant City
Gainesville at Armwood
Fort Myers Dunbar at Jesuit
Nature Coast at Green Cove Springs Clay
All games at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is $9.
Clearwater Central Catholic at Delray Beach American Heritage
Jacksonville Trinity Christian at Tampa Catholic
Naples First Baptist at Cambridge Christian