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Boca Ciega: surprise of the season

The late-summer sun still sizzles down on the same patchy field. The autumn rains and the mosquitoes are still an every-practice annoyance.

On the surface, nothing seems decidedly different around the Boca Ciega football camp. Yet something new is in the air.

Something that smells like victory.

The 1992 Pirates, it seems, have found the keys to success; to beating the patsies, which they've always been able to do, and to beating the toughies, which they've always had some trouble with because of a lack of depth.

Four weeks into the season, the Pirates are 3-1 and peering down on the rest of Class 4A, District 10. And while they're not yet truly in the district driver's seat, they seem to be slipping snugly behind the wheel.

"We've always had good athletes but we've never had any depth or luck, and this year, so far, we've had just enough of both," said Pirates coach Jon Bolen, whose relatively thin but sturdy squad has been the surprise of the county thus far. Through four games, Bogie has outscored its opposition 104-28, with 20 of those points coming in its only loss _ in double overtime to Class 5A Clearwater.

The Pirates begin every season with spunk _ 2-0 the past two years and 3-0 the season before. But about this point every year, calamity whacks the team, taking a two-way starter or two, or sometimes worse.

"It has been a problem here keeping people healthy," Bolen said with a grimace. "Three years ago, I lost my best lineman and my best running back in the third game. Last year, from game one to game six, we lost six starters. The kids always play hard, but they always pay the price."

True to form, this year's squad has not been exempt from key injuries. Running back Termaine Burton has battled assorted ailments all year. Against Largo, both he and Dwan Brown _ whom Bolen calls the best Bogie athlete ever _ were put out of commission for the night and will miss at least one week, maybe more.

Nonetheless, on that soggy Friday, the Pirates continued to plug away and won a game they surely would not have in years before.

"They are a different team now, and the biggest difference is the kids have finally have come of age," Bolen said. "They've grown up a lot; I can see it in their eyes and in their (actions) all the time. Against Clearwater, I walked out to the huddle and some of the kids were hurt but they were pulling each other together. Right then I knew they had the character to be a good team."

This week's predictions:

Jesuit at Boca Ciega: Bogie's rockin' and rollin' season could get toned down a bit tonight, but this is as good a place as any to stumble if the Pirates are going to _ in a non-district game against a non-county power. Jesuit by 4.

Dixie Hollins at Pinellas Park: The Rebels are for real, as last week's defeat of Countryside proved, and will gobble up rare 5A-8 cakewalks _ like this one. The Patriots are not a bad team, but they have been unlucky to date. That won't change tonight. Dixie by 20.

East Lake at St. Petersburg: They recorded their first win in almost two years last Friday, but tonight it's back to the other column for the Green Devils. The Eagles are on course to win their first district title. They won't veer much tonight. East Lake by 30.

Clearwater at Tarpon Springs: Thin as it is, Clearwater has hung tough in four straight difficult games. Always-tough Tarpon will make it five in a row. The Spongers may be a bit down, but they're still better than their record. Upset special: Tarpon by 2.

Lakewood at Osceola: Osceola will need all its pistons firing in its district showdown against Bogie next week. And Warriors fans, tune-ups don't get any better than this. Osceola by 40.

Northeast at Largo: The Packers must gain some footing if they are to repeat as 4A-10 champs, but they'll be hard pressed to find it tonight. Jerry Austin's Vikings have designs on a district title of their own. Northeast by 5.

In other games: Dunedin over Gibbs by 24; Lakeland over Countryside by 11; St. Petersburg Catholic over Admiral Farragut by 9; Shorecrest over Lake Highland by 3; Berkeley Prep over Northside Christian by 2; Sarasota Booker over Clearwater Catholic by 1.