1. Tampa Catholic (0-1)
This week: Today vs. Brooks DeBartolo
Scoop: The Crusaders opened the season with an 85-58 loss to Orlando First Academy, a state final four team a year ago, at the Hoops Exchange Shootout. Kevin Knox, who missed the first two preseason games for precautionary reasons after being diagnosed with high blood pressure, showed no signs of rust with a dominating performance. The junior had 31 points, 16 rebounds and three steals. Tampa Catholic will try to bounce back tonight against Brooks DeBartolo in a key Class 4A, District 9 game....
Class 3A Clearwater Central Catholic (12-0) at Delray Beach American Heritage (9-2)
Road to the semis: Clearwater Central Catholic — d. Melbourne Holy Trinity 36-0; d.Fort Pierce John Carroll 46-14; American Heritage — d. Miami Westminster Christian 27-19; d. West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy 16-11
Know the foe: The Stallions are in the state semifinals for the seventh time in the past nine seasons. They got there by beating Oxbridge in last week's region final on a 45-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from Cameron Smith to D.J. Davis on fourth and 9 with 35 seconds remaining. This is not the same team that beat CCC 63-13 in last year's state semifinals. American Heritage graduated 22 players. There's also a new coach, Keith Hindsley, who was an assistant with the program since 2012. He is the Stallions' fourth coach in the past 10 seasons. American Heritage still has talent. Senior running back Devin Singletary has offers from Florida A&M, Temple and USF. Last year, he ran for 156 yards and four touchdowns against the Marauders. ...
Aja Graham, Mitchell
Graham, a freshman, moved from Palm Beach County to Pasco when her dad got a job promotion. That meant joining a new club team and a new school.
"I was a little sad to leave all my friends," Graham said. "But everybody here has been very kind-hearted and open."
It doesn't hurt that Graham is an elite soccer player. In seven games with the Mustangs, she has scored 10 goals and added three assists. In three games last week against Pasco, Sickles and Clearwater Central Catholic, Graham scored four goals and had three assists to help Mitchell improve to 7-0....
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....
BROOKSVILLE — River Ridge and Nature Coast offered the equivalent of two cyclists pedaling furiously downhill, two rafts bouncing wildly downstream, two teams that glared into each other's eyes, took 10 paces, whirled — and ran the football at each other.
All night long.
The host Sharks were better equipped for the quick-hitting stuff. They had DeShawn Smith, a 3,000-yard back who already had set the national record for rushing touchdowns in a season. With spectacular bursts of speed and moves that are at times so unbelievable they belong in a video game, Smith left pursuers breathlessly behind....
While Tampa Bay's stellar running backs have gotten their fair share of praise this season, the area's receivers are having a good year as well. And most teams will tell you, when it comes to a deep playoff run, the more balanced offenses tend to prevail. Here's a look at four junior receivers who are game changers:
CJ Cotman, Clearwater Central Catholic
Earlier this season, an Ohio State assistant stopped by practice to check out Cotman. The Buckeyes coach only needed to see a few plays before he came away impressed....
Max Kligman's job description on the football field this season reads linebacker/defensive lineman/offensive lineman/long snapper/fullback/tailback.
Not only has Kligman been Clearwater Central Catholic's most versatile player, he has been one of the Marauders' most important.
"Max is a big reason we're in the position we are right now," said coach John Davis, whose team hosts Fort Pierce John Carroll in Friday's Class 3A region final....
Of the 13 playoff football teams alive in Tampa Bay, five have yet to drop a game this season. The big wins and standout players have been well-documented but get to know the high school teams even more with these profiles:
A brand new view
The receiving corps, as well as its immense depth, has been a bright spot for Armwood, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A. The Hawks (11-0) have combined for 12 touchdown receptions through 11 games, and quarterback Darrian McNeal has thrown three touchdowns in one night on two occasions....
Nature Coast running back DeShawn Smith has been in the spotlight for good reason. The senior has set just about every imaginable record a back could achieve in a single season — and beyond.
But coach Justin Worden knows his running game is driven as much by his offensive line as it is by his superstar running back.
"Those guys up front have been tremendous," Worden said. "They understand what we're trying to do and communicate so well with one another. It's a huge part of our success."...
To reach the Class 3A state semifinals for a fourth straight season — and possibly advance to the title game — Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis knew his team would have to stay healthy.
Last year's squad resembled a MASH unit with so many players missing time because of various injuries. At first it appeared keeping players from getting bruised and beaten up was going to be an impossible task with a thin roster that forced most players to start on both sides of the ball....
G Dakarai Allen, Sr., Largo: Known more as a standout in football, Allen is a clutch guard who carried the Packers most of last season. He will continue to be a top-notch scorer on a team that will have more depth.
F Darius Banks, Jr., St. Petersburg: After two stellar seasons, the 6-foot-4 small forward is poised for even bigger things this year. He is listed as a four-star recruit and ranked fifth in the state by ESPN....
Flash vs. force
River Ridge's Chris Schwarz and Nature Coast's DeShawn Smith are record-setting running backs who square off this week, marking the first time in Tampa Bay playoff history that a 2,000-yard rusher has gone up against a 3,000-yarder.
Smith is the state's leading rusher with 3,111 yards and he has already set the Hernando County record for most career yards with 5,394. Schwarz was the state's leading rusher in 2014. This year, he has 2,205 yards and 5,098 for his career, 182 shy of setting the Pasco County record....
1. Tampa Catholic (0-0)
This week: Saturday vs. Orlando First Academy
Scoop: The Crusaders possess the most dynamic scoring duo in the area with forward Kevin Knox and guard Thomas Dziagwa, who each averaged more than 24 points per game last season. But the depth of this team is what puts the Crusaders at the top of the rankings. In the preseason, Tampa Catholic beat Shorecrest and Countryside handily despite not having Knox, a five-star recruit who was out last week after doctors discovered he had high blood pressure. Knox resumed practicing Friday. In his absence, the Crusaders found other guys who can score. Tai Strickland, a transfer from Jesuit, had more than 20 points in two preseason games and will take over at point guard. Bentlee Sanders, who missed last season due to injury, will add another scoring option when he returns once the football season is over.That gives Tampa Catholic enough firepower to seriously contend for a state title in Class 4A....
Bailey Hertenstein, Riverview
Last year as a freshman, Hertenstein finished 15th at the state cross country meet. Immediately after, she set a new goal for the 2015 season, coach Shanna Brown said, and that was just to finish a little better the next time around.
Then that spring, Hertenstein excelled on the track, taking second in the mile and fourth in the 800 meters at the state meet....
Week 2 of the high school football postseason has a familiar feel for some area teams. Three of this week's games are district rematches from the regular season, while one region final pits 3A foes against each other again. Do the underdogs have a chance this time around?
7A: Tampa Bay Tech (7-4) at Plant City (10-1)
First matchup: A close game Oct. 2 turned into a 19-3 Plant City rout in the second half. Trailing 3-0 at the half, the Raiders scored 19 unanswered points to snap a five-game losing streak in the series. Markese Hargrove and a stifling defense were the difference makers for Plant City. Hargrove ran for 170 yards and scored on a 47-yard run on his second carry of the third quarter in what turned out to be the winning score. The defense did the rest, recording three interceptions and a safety. The win solidified the Raiders as the front-runner in Class 7A, District 9 and is the reason they are hosting Friday's region semifinal....