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FOOTBALL FORECAST

(All games begin at 7:30 tonight except as noted)

Note: Ernest Hooper is sick but you knew that already. Any way, because Hooper was sidelined by illness this week, we've asked the Times correspondents to fill the void.

Game of the Week

Hillsborough (7-0) at Gaither (4-2)

From his sickbed, Hooper awoke from a Ny-Quil-induced slumber just long enough to say Hillsborough will roll. The Cowboys have been inconsistent, while Hillsborough has made few mistakes. Look for the trend to continue because RB Jamall Anderson (1,014 yards) has been "all that" and Jeremey Earle has the talent to keep defenses honest. Only a sophomore, this could be the game where Earle breaks out with a huge performance. Gaither has some tools _ RB Jose Blair and FB Brian Wyatt _ but its defense is suspect, even though it held Riverview to 23 points in a narrow 24-23 loss. We like the Terriers to win tonight and end up unbeaten in the regular season. Hooper's pick: Hillsborough 27, Gaither 17.

Northside Chr. (5-1) at Temple Heights (6-0)

Eric Vician, a former cross-country superstar from New Jersey, is taking a Sgt. Schulz approach to the game: "I know nothing about Northside," Vician said, "so I'm picking Temple Heights." Vician was informed that the Mustangs would be Temple's first true test of the season, but he stuck by his guns. "Nate Dorsey will score the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter." Vician's pick: Temple Heights 21, Northside Christian 14.

Leto (4-2) at Chamberlain (2-5)

Jamal Thalji, in addition to being a Times correspondent, is the editor-in-chief at the USF Oracle. In the same authoritative voice he uses to command respect from his staff, Thalji called the Chamberlain defense soft and said Leto's posse of running backs would find the going smooth against the Chiefs. Thalji respects the talent of RB Eugene McCaslin and WR Tiger McDowell, but doesn't believe the duo has enough to propel Chamberlain to the victory. So confident is Thalji, he promises to buy lunch for McCaslin and McDowell. Thalji's pick: Leto 28, Chamberlain 21.

Jefferson (4-2) at Plant (3-4)

Call Patrick Dowling's house and you're likely to hear the theme from Speed Racer on his answering machine. Why? Who knows? Dowling says Plant will drive by Jefferson, which was shut out against Auburndale last week despite having top-notch talents such as QB Carl Puryear and TE Keith Newman. Dowling believes Panther running backs Jasmine Tramel, Kevin Cane and Demetick Gilbert, who have combined for 1,202 yards, will be enough to upset the Dragons. Dowling's pick: Plant 22, Jefferson 21.

Armwood (2-4) at Jesuit (5-1)

Jose Martinez, who imparts his football wisdom from an old electric football set and Sega Genesis' John Madden game, sees Jesuit running roughsod over Armwood. The Tigers can ill afford to slip up against the Hawks in a tight district race. RB Zach Powell won't let them (724 yards, 7 TDs). Martinez's pick: Jesuit 24, Armwood 7.

Brandon (4-3) at King (2-5)

As a seventh-grader, Rodney Page picked baseball over football because "I didn't get hit as much in baseball." Now he toils for the Times when not enjoying the Mexican cuisine at Tucson's in Clearwater. Page says Brandon will wrap up King like a burito by controlling the ball and keeping it out of the hands of King QB Chris Ryan, one of the state's top statistical passers. Page's pick: Brandon 27, King 20.

Plant City (2-4) at East Bay (0-7)

Terry Jones says he still has the scars and healed bones from his football-playing days at Winter Haven and in the Marine Corps. See Terry at halftime if you would like an up-close look at his battle wounds. Jones says Plant City also should expect a battle from winless East Bay. He thinks East Bay will dominate early before Plant City wears them down. Jones' pick: Plant City 14, East Bay 8.

Tampa Bay Tech (2-5) at Kathleen (2-4)

Rich "I wasn't a stud, but I was OK" Hall played defensive back at Bethel Park High in Bethel Park, Pa. The humble Hall failed to reveal he was known as the "Bethel Park Basher" during his heyday. Now he spends his time dreaming of LPGA careers for young daughters Jennifer and Katrina. Hall says Tech may be dreaming of a victory, but Kathleen will turn it into a nightmare. Hall's pick: Kathleen 20, Tampa Bay Tech 17.

Bloomingdale (3-4) at Lake Gibson (3-3)

Bloomingdale fans making the trip to Lake Gibson should keep an eye out for Carey Freeman, whose unreliable car may have him stuck on some dark part of Interstate 4. The correspondents say it's just not a Friday night if Freeman doesn't produce a woeful tale about his wheels. Freeman promises he'll reach the game and watch a Bloomingdale team get by the Braves with the help of RB Greg Smith (648 yards) and a stingy defense. Freeman's pick: Bloomingdale 24, Lake Gibson 17.

Santa Fe Catholic (2-3) at Berkeley Prep (0-5)

Matt "Country Club" Cunningham was a high school whiz in tennis and golf, but never ventured onto the football field. Cunningham is familiar with Berkeley, however, and says the Bucs will need a nine-iron, a sand wedge and two woods to even come close to clubbing Santa Fe. Cunningham's pick: Santa Fe Catholic 28, Berkeley Prep 17.

Tampa Catholic (3-3) at Fort Meade (1-5)

David Brackman is a football fountain of knowledge. Only a desire to be with wife Susan stops him from moving to Vegas and making a killing. Brackman forecasts a Tampa Catholic victory over Fort Meade because "TC coach Bob Henriquez is a genuis." Brackman's pick: Tampa Catholic 17, Fort Meade 7.

Robinson (1-5) at Auburndale (4-2)

Because of Brackman's prowess, we're allowing him to pick two games. He sees Auburndale in a romp over Robinson, primarily because "the Bloodhounds have a nose for victory." Brackman's pick: Auburndale 27, Robinson 7.

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