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No such thing as a sure pick

Sure is a good name for a deodorant but a horrible byword for predicting high school games.

Sure, I should have known there was no such thing as a sure bet, but how was I to know county favorites like Plant City, Armwood and Hillsborough would stumble.

Last week was one full of disbelief. "Plant City beat Chamberlain? Jefferson beat Armwood? Surely, you jest."

No, the Chiefs and Dragons did win. And don't call me Shirley.

Halfway through the season, my offer to guarantee victories has been rescinded because the sure-fire predictions have backfired. Here's the three sure bet teams that are now classified as 50-50 shots.

Sure Bet No. 1: Plant City. Since 1990, the Raiders were 13-1 against Hillsborough County teams and hadn't lost since King produced a 14-10 upset on Sept. 7, 1990. They went 9-1 last year and the 1992 team was supposed to be better.

So I ask, was it wrong to assume Plant City would clock every team it played with the possible exception of Manatee? Sure, the Lakeland loss two weeks ago wasn't that big a surprise, but even the Las Vegas oddsmakers had favored the Raiders to roll over Chamberlain last week. Even Pete Rose was seen betting on Coach Floyd Kelly's team.

Alas, a blocked punt and a fired up Chiefs defense doomed Plant City and ended its sure bet status. Kelly said the heartbreaking, last-second loss to Lakeland had done more damage than he first realized, but he believes the team has returned to its hard hitting ways.

Sure Bet No. 2: Hillsborough. The Terriers had it all this year. Talent on both sides of the ball and the incentive of playing for retiring coach Dick O'Brien.

Alas, they lost to King in week two. Yes, Hillsborough played King without fullback Dexter Battle and it was only the second week. But when you're a sure bet, you're a sure bet. Excuses need not apply.

Hillsborough could go a long way in retaining sure bet status if they beat Chamberlain this week. But we saw what the Chiefs do to "sure bet" teams last week.

Sure Bet No. 3: Armwood. When someone told me "raise your hand if you're sure about Armwood," you got only a tentative lift in the forearm. After the Hawks opened the season 3-0 and outscoring its opponents 94-18, I was reaching for the sky. I was making reservations in Gainesville and wondering how Coach Sean Callahan would deal with Miami Southridge in the state final.

Two weeks later the Hawks are 3-2, having lost to King and Jefferson.

What's a prognosticator supposed to do? Keep picking.

Plant City 21, Brandon 10: A big victory over the Raiders could console the Eagles, but Plant City hasn't lost three consecutive games since 1989, and it's the Raiders' homecoming. Quarterback Alan Kicklighter's mastery of the passing game _ he used 10 different receivers last week _ will be too much for a good Brandon team to handle.

Hillsborough 14, Chamberlain 6: Chamberlain coach Billy Turner turned the Chiefs' season around last week by guiding the team to a win over Plant City, but Chamberlain's lack of offense doesn't make it a prime candidate to produce consecutive upsets. The Terriers have given up 16 points in five games.

Armwood 17, Sarasota 14: This is a risky pick. With losses to Southeast, Manatee and Charlotte, the Sailors are really are the best 2-3 team in the state. The Hawks, on the other hand, are slumping for unexplained reasons. Still, I once thought this was a team that could contend for the state title. Surely, it's capable of taking this must-win district game.

Other games: East Bay 22, TBT 6; Gaither 15, Leto 14; King 10, Bartow 6; Robinson 24, Gibbs 13; Manatee 30, Bloomingdale 0; Southeast 18, Jefferson 8; Plant 18, Bayshore 6; Palmetto 20, Jesuit 14; Tampa Catholic 24, Cardinal Mooney 3; Berkeley Prep 21, Ocala St. John 3; Temple Heights 8, Clearwater Central Catholic 0.

Last week: 8-3. Season: 44-14 (.750).

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