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Prep football trends start to form

Pretenders or contenders? As the high school football season embarks on week three, teams and story lines begin to unfold.

Week two offered the predictable, a Chamberlain win over Sickles, and the unpredictable, Jefferson falling to Brandon. Chamberlain and Gaither were the only two teams in north Hillsborough County that got off to 1-0 starts in district play last week. Five lost their district openers, and Jefferson doesn't begin district play until Oct. 1.

This week the teams are off from district play, but there are several marquee matchups that figure to be real tests in determining which teams take a step forward and which are left scratching their heads.

While some consider two weeks to be coincidence, three weeks begins to become a trend. With a shortened schedule, tonight's games are essential in determining where that trend leads.

All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.

Jefferson (2-1) at Armwood (2-0)

LAST WEEK: Armwood defeated Blake 53-0; Jefferson lost to Brandon 49-48.

LAST YEAR: Armwood won 35-14.

THE SKINNY: It doesn't get any bigger than this. Armwood, the reigning Class 4A state champion, puts its 17-game winning streak on the line at home with as much confidence and momentum as a team can have. Jefferson, which reached the Class 4A title game in 2002, was hoping to come into this game equally confident and undefeated but was upset by Brandon last week. When these teams get together, it's lights out and bragging rights are on the line. Remember, three years ago the Dragons handed the Hawks their worst defeat in school history, a 63-0 thumping.

THE EDGE: Being an underdog on the road is always inspiring, and Jefferson will need to come in with a chip on its shoulder and put together a perfect game if it hopes to stop the Hawks' domination. Dragons scatback Alex Suber, who rushed for 215 yards last week and two scores, can take over a game, but it's defense that his team lacks. In its last two games the Dragons' defense has allowed backs to run for 177 and 169 yards while allowing a combined 70 points. Throw Armwood's 235-pound running back Kalvin Bailey at a questionable unit, and that spells trouble and an 18th consecutive victory.

Middleton (1-1) at Chamberlain (1-1)

LAST WEEK: Middleton beat Alonso 24-6; Chamberlain beat Sickles 42-6.

LAST YEAR: Chamberlain won 17-6.

THE SKINNY: Now that Middleton has been dubbed by many as the fastest team in the county, you can expect teams to try to counter the Tigers' speed. If anyone can, it's Chamberlain. With a combination of speed and size, the Chiefs can control the ball on long drives, keeping it away from Middleton's speedy skill players. Chamberlain quarterback Jet Steele is elusive and can buy time on the run, often spotting his big tight end Stephen Pimm.

THE EDGE: This one has the makings of a track meet and could come down to special teams. If so, bet on Chiefs kicker Nick Lomartire to be the difference maker as Chamberlain escapes a close one at home.

Gaither (2-0) at Tampa Bay Tech (1-1)

LAST WEEK: Gaither beat King 65-12; Tampa Bay Tech beat Freedom 21-16.

LAST YEAR: Gaither won 22-13.

THE SKINNY: The Cowboys mosey off the ranch, playing the third of four road games to begin the season. This game will give the Titans a good idea where they stand, which has been difficult to decipher thus far after a crushing loss to powerful Armwood in week one followed by a win over a young Freedom team last week.

THE EDGE: Although all three of their touchdowns came by way of the ground last week, the Titans typically prefer to air it out. Gaither lost three defensive backs to graduation last year and will field a secondary yet to be tested. Cowboy running back Ovie Esalomi ran for an 80-yard score in week one and put up a 71-yard touchdown last week. Ovie has put the "O" back in Gaither's offense and keeps the 'Boys undefeated.

Freedom (0-2) at Alonso (0-2)

LAST WEEK: Freedom lost to Tampa Bay Tech 21-16; Alonso lost to Middleton 24-6.

LAST YEAR: Alonso won 45-7.

THE SKINNY: The Ravens' 0-2 start is one of the biggest surprises so far this year. Both the offense and defense seem yet to find any cohesiveness. Running back Rob Williams, who bullied would-be tacklers in week one with a 150-plus-yard performance, was a no-show against Middleton last week as part of an offense that gained just 46 yards on 28 carries.

THE EDGE: The Freedom Patriots are proving they won't be pushed around the way they were last year, but Alonso can't afford to take any team for granted, considering its start. The Ravens' hopes of returning to the playoffs are in jeopardy, but they get back on track this week.

Plant City (2-0) at Wharton (0-2)

LAST WEEK: Plant City defeated Riverview 14-7; Wharton fell to Hillsborough 21-0.

LAST YEAR: Plant City beat Wharton 28-14.

THE SKINNY: There's an all-points bulletin out for the Wildcats offense. It has failed to get on the board in its first eight quarters of the season and failed to reach 200 total yards in either contest. Contrast that with the fact that Plant City has tallied 558 rushing yards over the same span, and it doesn't look good for the Wildcats.

THE EDGE: Plant City opened last week's game with a 19-play drive that consumed 11 minutes. Get the deep heating rub ready for the Wildcats defense. Edge: Plant City.

Sickles (0-2) at Newsome (2-0)

LAST WEEK: Sickles lost to Chamberlain 42-6; Newsome beat Tampa Catholic 48-6.

LAST YEAR: Sickles won 31-0.

THE SKINNY: This game has "revenge" written all over it. After enduring a 1-9 season in 2003, the Wolves have a little "Mo" on their side and will be looking to atone for the thumping they took a year ago. Meanwhile, the Gryphons are coming off a humbling loss to Chamberlain and are winless.

THE EDGE: Give Newsome props for the good start, but Robinson and Chamberlain, which account for both Sickles losses, are far from Tampa Catholic and Leto, victims of Newsome victories. There is still some proving to be done; until then, go with Sickles.

Robinson (1-1) at Leto (0-2)

LAST WEEK: Robinson lost to Jesuit 13-7; Leto lost to Plant 10-7.

LAST YEAR: Robinson won 48-8.

THE SKINNY: Leto gets Robinson and Armwood in back-to-back games. This is a good time for coach Jerrell Cogmon to remind his team of the story of David and Goliath. Robinson has a balanced offense, led by last year's leading passer in Hillsborough County, Marcello Trigg. Leto struggled with 124 total yards last week but played turnover-free football.

THE EDGE: Turnovers against Jesuit last week kept Robinson from being 2-0. Chances are they weren't happy in practice this week and come out more focused in a big win.