Our pencils are worn to the nub, but we finally can tell you this: The playoffs all but begin tonight in Pasco County when arguably the three biggest games of the season kick off at 7:30. At stake in a pair of Class 3A, District 8 games are two playoff berths and a district crown. Then there's the battle of goliaths when undefeated Ridgewood invades one-loss Land O'Lakes. By night's end the playoff picture will be cemented in what should be a crazy start to the postseason. Here's a look at the three key games. And in case you're wondering: Academy at the Lakes, Bishop McLaughlin, Mitchell, River Ridge, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch are out of the playoffs.
If Pasco beats Gulf and Hudson beats Zephyrhills: Pasco is the district champion, Hudson is runnerup
If Pasco beats Gulf and Zephyrhills beats Hudson: Zephyrhills is the district champion, Pasco is runnerup
If Gulf beats Pasco and Hudson beats Zephyrhills: Hudson is district champion, Gulf is runnerup
If Gulf beats Pasco and Zephyrhills beats Hudson: Gulf is district champion, Zephyrhills is runnerup
Hudson (6-2, 3-1) at Zephyrhills (5-3, 3-1)
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Zephyrhills
Hudson district results: at Pasco, L 39-34; vs. Wiregrass, W 65-18; vs. Gulf, W 45-21; vs. Sunlake, W 73-0
Zephyrhills district results: vs. Sunlake, W 49-0; vs. Pasco, W 14-7; at Wiregrass Ranch, W 35-14; at Gulf, L 35-13
Scouting report: Hudson offense vs. Zephyrhills defense.The Cobras are first in the area in scoring (44.4 ppg), third in passing (1,554 yards) and ninth in rushing (1,925 yards). Sophomore quarterback Zack Wynn (92-of-148, 1,554 yards, 18 TDs, three INTs) engineers a shotgun, spread attack that is extremely balanced. Senior receiver Tony Germano (33 rec., 673 yards, seven TDs) is one of five players with at least 10 catches. Hudson is the only team in Tampa Bay with more than 1,500 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing. Senior RB Sean Scott is No. 3 on the North Suncoast with 1,445 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Zephyrhills has been inconsistent on defense. The Bulldogs did a nice job of holding Gulf RB David Williams to 145 yards rushing last week, his lowest output of the season. But the Bulldogs still gave up 35 points.
Zephyrhills offense vs. Hudson defense: The Bulldogs have a two-pronged attack that begins with senior running back Chris Henry (955 yards, eight TDs) and sophomore quarterback Tyler Guy (845 yards, eight INTs, six TDs). Jordan Smith, Joey Lyman and Alex Sampson each have more than 200 yards receiving.
X factors: Just as important as Hudson's offensive stats is this: 10-38. That's the combined record of the six teams Hudson has defeated this season. None has a winning record, and Gulf is the only one that is .500.
Pasco (4-4, 3-1) at Gulf (4-4, 3-1)
Where: Des Little Stadium, New Port Richey
Pasco district results: vs. Hudson, W 39-34; at Zephyrhills, L 14-7; vs. Sunlake, W 42-0; at Wiregrass Ranch, W 42-0
Gulf district results: at Wiregrass, W 45-7; vs. Sunlake, W 66-20; at Hudson, L 42-21; vs. Zephyrhills, W 35-13.
Scouting report:Pasco offense vs. Gulf defense. The Pirates have relied on running back Jamall Haynes (642 yards, five TDs) and sophomore D.J. Clower (47-for-97, 824 yards, six TDs, four INTs). Josh Johnson is a triple threat as a quarterback, running back and receiver with explosive speed and raw talent. He has accounted for 324 yards and five TDs.
Statistically, the Bucs field one of the worst defenses in the county. In four wins, they are outscoring opponents an average of 47-17, but in four losses, they've been outscored by an average of 40-24.
Gulf offense vs. Pasco defense:It comes down to the Pirates' success in stopping Gulf RB David Williams, who leads the Tampa Bay area in rushing (1,851 yards) and yards per carry (10.52 among RBs with at least 110 attempts) and is tied for second in touchdowns (22).
Gulf needs to avoid mistakes on first down. When the Bucs have struggled, they've been in second-and-long and third-and-long situations. Conversely, Pasco needs to force Gulf into these situations by pressuring sophomore QB Madison Burr.
X factors: Gulf forced five turnovers last week against Zephyrhills. Pasco has fought adversity all season. The Pirates were the only team to take down Land O'Lakes and can tout a hard-fought victory over Hudson.
Class 4A, District 8 championship game
Ridgewood (8-0, 4-0) at Land O'Lakes (7-1, 4-0)
Where: Gator Stadium, Land O'Lakes
Ridgewood district results: vs. Central, W 42-21; at River Ridge, W 49-14; at Tarpon Springs, W 34-28, vs. Springstead, W 27-13
Land O'Lakes district results: at Springstead, W 14-0; vs. Tarpon Springs, W 39-20; vs. Central, W 14-7; at River Ridge, W 31-0
Notable: Ridgewood has scored 40 or more points in five games, and beat all but one opponent by double digits.
Winner scenario: The winner will host Rockledge (7-2), Merritt Island (3-6) or Titusville (7-2) in the first round of the playoffs.
Runnerup scenario: The runnerup will travel to Daytona Beach Seabreeze, which is 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in Class 4A.
X factors: Land O'Lakes defeated Wharton last season 18-0 on its home field to claim the Class 5A, District 5 title. The Gators have qualified for the state tournament 11 consecutive seasons.