In theory, the Citrus Hurricanes could take it easy tonight if they so desire.
As far as the post-season goes, Citrus is in no matter what happens when it travels to Ocala to play Lake Weir. Although this is a district contest, the chips already have fallen into place so that Citrus has locked up the runner-up position regardless of tonight's outcome.
But that's not the way the Hurricanes are looking at this game. A four-game winning streak three weeks ago suddenly has turned into an ugly two-game losing streak.
And it doesn't take a genius to know that you don't want to go into the playoffs on a downhill slide.
So when Citrus takes the field at 7:30 it will be looking for a way to stop losing _ and trying to prove it deserves to be playoff bound.
"Everybody keeps talking about us having it (a playoff spot) locked up, but with a 4-4 record we are not to the point of respectability yet," Citrus coach Ken Berry said. "At the end of the season, we don't want to slide into the playoffs on ifs and buts. We want to show we deserve to be there."
That desire to prove they belong is at the heart of everything the Hurricanes are about right now. After an 0-10 season last year, the players know what it's like to have people snickering behind their backs. They don't want the bad jokes to carry over into this year's playoff run.
"No matter what we do this year, people are going to always look back at the 0-10 season," junior tight end Shawn Fitzpatrick said. "We can't live it down, but we're trying to make up for it this year. We need to try to win to get a little momentum going into the playoffs. So if everybody does their job (tonight), we should win."
For awhile, the Hurricanes were winning _ surprising a lot of teams with their small but tenacious defense. They've never had the offense to run up the score on opponents, but with junior running back Walter Bentley, they did just enough to win.
Then came the open week, Oct.
17. Things haven't been the same since.
"The open week came at a good time for injuries, but it was a bad time in terms of where it fell," Berry said. "We got out of focus a little bit and South Sumter showed us that. The defense was playing real well, but they back-slid a little bit. But I thought we played better last week than the week before and we expect to play better Friday."
According to the players, part of the reason for the downslide is that the team got a little complacent after its four straight wins. That's all over, they say.
"The last two weeks, we've got a rude awakening so we've got to play better," quarterback Jeff Beaudet said. "Back then, we had a certain feeling that we weren't going to lose and we've got to get that feeling back. All the seniors care about is going out with a winning season."
To do that, Citrus needs a win tonight and a victory in its final regular-season game at South Lake. The biggest problem tonight may be Lake Weir's passing game. The Lake Weir offense relies heavily on passing and Berry said Citrus hasn't faced many teams that throw the ball often.
Lake Weir's speed also could cause some problems for Citrus, which doesn't possess a lot of speed of its own. But Citrus does have Bentley, who has rushed for 967 yards on 209 carries. And if the defense can get back to its old form, Berry feels like the team has a good chance.
Ultimately, that's all they're asking for _ a chance.
"When the kids started the season, the goal was to just win a game," Berry said. "But what's the difference between not winning and winning one or two games. So our goal is to try to be .500 or over and make the playoffs.
"If you win one or two, yes, they've accomplished something. But they've worked hard and they deserve more. Now we've got to make sure we get there."