After tonight, everyone will still be in the driver's seat in the race for state playoff berths. But someone will wind up a backseat driver.
In the ever-suspenseful battle for title and runner-up spots in the District 4A-6 tonight in Inverness in the second of three critical games.
South Sumter, which has already beaten Crystal River, can clinch the 4A-6 title with a victory against Citrus. Even a late-season 4A-6 loss to Lecanto could not cost the Raiders a third consecutive crown. Here's why.
A loss to South Sumter would leave Citrus and Crystal River tied at 1-1 with one district game left _ against each other Nov. 5. One team would end up 2-1, the other 1-2. And in a two-way, head-to-head battle with either Citrus or Crystal River, South Sumter would win.
But, if Citrus wins tonight, two more possibilities unfold.
The Hurricanes could clinch the district title with a victory over Crystal River in two weeks, or throw the race into a three-way tie at 2-1 with a loss to the Pirates, if South Sumter defeats Lecanto the same night. Such a tie would be decided with a three-team Kansas tie-breaker, as happened in 1991.
So, while the picture could become clearer after tonight's game, no one will be eliminated from the race. Except Lecanto, which at 0-2 has already been mathematically eliminated.
Thing is, everyone would rather go to the playoffs as the district champion than as the runner-up. The perks are so much better. Winners play first-round games at home against runners-up.
"The last thing we want to do is go up there and play real uptight," said South Sumter coach Inman Sherman, whose team has recorded shutout victories over Citrus each of the last two seasons (7-0 in '91, 15-0 last year) to clinch the district title. "We don't want the players to feel this is a win-at-all-cost game."
The Hurricanes, who have not beaten South Sumter since a 20-0 victory in 1988, would like just to redeem themselves after last week's 13-6 loss to Central, in which Citrus racked up more than 300 yards on offense but cost itself scoring opportunities with untimely turnovers.
"I think they're upset after last week's loss," said Citrus coach Ken Berry, whose team won its first five games before falling to Vanguard and then Central. "They felt like for the first time all year they didn't play well, and that really bothered them. Hopefully, they'll play better this week."
There could be no better time.
"We've talked about this and the Crystal River game since the beginning of the season," Berry said. "In a four-team district, all the games are key games, regardless of what you did last week. Whoever wins is in the driver's seat."
South Sumter 1-0
Crystal River 1-1
South Sumter at Citrus, today.
Nov. 5 _ Crystal River at Citrus; Lecanto at South Sumter.