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Eagles must beat Tarpon tonight for spot in playoffs

Winning is not going to be enough for the Springstead football team.

To earn a spot in the playoffs from Class 5A, District 8, the defending champion Eagles may need the help of their math department.

As the teams play their last district games tonight, one of four scenarios will develop that include the Eagles winning the title outright, just getting into the playoffs, or not getting in at all.

The deciding games are Springstead at Tarpon Springs and River Ridge at Land O'Lakes, both at 7:30. All but River Ridge have a shot at being the district champion.

Here's where coaches, players and fans will have to flip out their calculators and start drawing up brackets:

A Springstead victory over the favored Spongers guarantees the Eagles a spot in the playoffs, but River Ridge also must win for the Eagles to win the district title. However, a loss for the Eagles means they would have to depend on River Ridge to pull off an upset and force a three-way tiebreaker to decide the district runner-up.

"This is our biggest game of the year and there are a lot of playoff implications," said Springstead coach Pat McCoy. "I know what's at stake and I'm sure (the players) know what's at stake."

What is clearer than all the red tape is that if the Eagles had not suffered an early season upset at the hands of Land O'Lakes, there would have been no need for all the number crunching.

Instead, one possible outcome of tonight's games is a three-way tie for district runner-up between Land O'Lakes, River Ridge and Springstead. This would require a tiebreaker next week.

"We went down there and we got thumped," McCoy said. "I think it shook everyone in the program up. From that time, we just constantly improved. . . . They've never let themselves get down after a loss."

An upset of Tarpon Springs is not impossible, but the Spongers have put up more points this season and will be playing at home. They have scored 44 more points against district teams (147 total) than the next team, Springstead, which has only scored 103 points over eight games.

The teams are similar in that both run the ball with frequency and throw it only to change pace. Smash-mouth running is a trademark of both ballclubs, and both feature speedy and powerful runners.

Springstead's offense bears its weight on two legs: those of Anthony Owens. He was the first running back in Hernando County to reach the 1,000-yard mark this season and has 1,248 yards.

Fullback Ryan Angelo has provided some relief for Owens with 649 yards. Angelo bangs ahead for 3 or 4 yards on most carries, but no one else on the team has shown the consistent ability to break huge gains like Owens has.

Owens showed his talent two weeks ago against Gulf when he ran the Eagles' first play from scrimmage 80 yards for the score.

And as far as passing goes, McCoy said earlier this season "balance is spreading the ball to our three running backs." If statistics are an indication, the same can be said for Tarpon Springs.

Tailback Atif Austin has been the Spongers' main ball carrier with 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns. That's second in Pinellas County for both statistics. Spongers change-up runner Steve Harris has not provided the same kind of relief for his team, rushing for only 221 yards.

The defenses are nearly equal. The Eagles have given up two fewer points. So the difference may come down to which featured running back is in the best shape and can last the entire game. In that area, with Angelo available to relieve Owens throughout the game, the Eagles may have the edge.

And a win would eliminate the need for calculators and charts.

"Whoever's ready to play in the fourth quarter, that's who's going to win," Owens said. "We're going to go right at 'em."

Playoff picture for Springstead

Team Dist. Ovll

Tarpon Springs 3-1 5-3

Springstead 3-1 6-2

Land O'Lakes 3-1 4-4

River Ridge 2-2 3-5

SCENARIOS

Most likely: Tarpon Springs, LOL win.

The effect: Tarpon Springs clinches title, LOL runner-up.

One upset: Tarpon Springs, River Ridge win.

The effect: Tarpon clinches title, tiebreaker for runner-up.

One upset: Springstead, LOL win.

The effect: Land O'Lakes clinches title, Springstead runner-up.

Two upsets: Springstead, River Ridge win.

The effect: Springstead clinches title, Tarpon runner-up.

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