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Three North of Tampa teams advance to prep football playoffs

CARROLLWOOD — The regular season skirmishes have been waged. And three North of Tampa teams managed to exit the fray with playoff berths.

In Class 8A, Wharton (8-2) travels to Orlando to face unbeaten Dr. Phillips, a nemesis from last season's playoffs. In Class 7A, Gaither, the 7A-7 district champs, hosts Newsome. And in Class 2A, Carrollwood Day School hosts Moore Haven in a contest being played at Alonso High School.

Gaither, which earned its district title thanks to a wild 35-32 win against Tampa Bay Tech on Nov. 2, could face the Titans again. A Cowboys' win would send Gaither to the second round of the playoffs to face the winner of the Tech-Durant playoff opener.

Meanwhile, Wharton has the tough task of going to Orlando to face the 10-0 Dr. Phillips Panthers, the top-ranked team in Class 8A and the same program that sent Wharton home 35-14 in the opening round of last season's playoffs.

And Carrollwood Day opens its first-ever playoffs "at home" against Moore Haven, a standout program located just west of Lake Okeechobee. To accommodate an expected larger crowd, the Patriots are hosting their playoff game at Alonso.

All games are scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

Wharton (8-2) at Orlando Dr. Phillips (10-0)

Last week: Wharton defeated Spoto 42-13; Dr. Phillips defeated Orlando Freedom 27-14.

Why you should go: To see what could be the final game for a couple of Wharton standouts. Defensive back Vernon Hargreaves and linebacker Rocky Enos will try to slow down the Panthers, who aren't flashy but do a lot of things well. Led by tailback Eric Harrell, Dr. Phillips totaled more than 30 points in six contests this year. Wharton will counter on offense with QB Chase Litton (18 TD passes this season) and RB Jeff Keil (600 yards, seven TDs). Wharton enters the playoffs with five consecutive wins.

Newsome (6-4) at Gaither (8-2)

Last week: Gaither defeated Riverview 34-24; Newsome defeated Bloomingdale 41-7.

Why you should go: To see which kind of offense can prevail in playoff football: Gaither's pass attack or Newsome's churn-it-out ground attack. Gaither, which advanced to the region finals last season and is 17-6 over the past two seasons, is led by quarterback Alex McGough (1,541 yards passing in 2012 with 20 TDs and four interceptions). Throw in offensive weapons Shug Oyegunle and Vu Le, a duo with a combined 1,300-plus yards of offense and 18 touchdowns, and McGough has weapons to light up the scoreboard.

But the Wolves may be one of the hotter teams in the county entering the playoffs, as evidenced by their last three games (all wins): 42-6, 40-7, 41-7. Quarterback Will Worth led Newsome in passing (700 yards), rushing (1,000) and scoring (21 touchdowns). He also plays a pretty mean linebacker.

Moore Haven (9-1) vs. Carrollwood Day School (9-1)

(at Alonso High)

Last week: Moore Haven defeated LaBelle 13-8; CDS was off.

Why you should go: How about to welcome the CDS program to the postseason? Or to watch tailback Robert Davis go for the Hillsborough County career rushing record? Or just to see how the Patriots will respond of the bright lights of playoff prep football.

CDS is playing in its first playoff game since beginning 11-man football in 2008. Davis, with 1,875 yards on the season, needs another 92 to pass Avious Steadman's record total (5,320), amassed from 1998-2001 at Riverview. In the Terriers, CDS is facing a dominant running squad that hasn't lost a game since the first week of the regular season. The Moore Haven defense has been solid as well with three shutouts this season.