Team of the Week: Berkeley Prep
The Bucs can take beating Clearwater Central Catholic off their bucket list. They broke a five-game losing streak to the Marauders on Friday with a 21-14 win. Sophomore Xavier Townsend scored a touchdown with 1:42 remaining and RJ Garcia intercepted a pass in the final seconds to seal the win.
The win also ended the Marauders’ regular-season win streak at 23. The last time Berkeley Prep defeated CCC was 2011. This was the fifth straight season that the schools started the season against each other. Berkeley Prep finally gets to start 1-0.
Player of the Week: Mario Williams, Plant City
With sheer speed and sure hands, Williams can terrorize opposing defensive backs, turning short passes into long gains that often end with the junior reaching the end zone. On Friday, Williams did that three times — all in the first half against Jesuit.
The first touchdown set the tone, with Williams taking a slant pass from quarterback Makenzie Kennedy and racing 72 yards for a touchdown. On the two other scores, Williams simply beat the secondary, the last coming on a 43-yarder with 10 seconds remaining in the half. His three first-half touchdown catches totaled 150 yards and gave the Raiders a 12-point lead, enough of a cushion to hold on in a big 37-29 season-opening victory.
Coach of the Week: Mike Williams, Middleton
More than a month ago, Williams left a high school head coaching job in California to make a difference with youth players in Tampa. The former Plant and USC standout returned to his hometown because he was so impacted by the death of incoming Middleton freshman Hezekiah B. Walters, who collapsed during summer conditioning drills.
Williams ended up becoming the Tigers coach. It was a rough start. For the first week of practice, the players were stuck in the cafeteria and classrooms filling out paperwork so they could be cleared. Williams canceled the preseason game against Clearwater because he was unsure if he would have enough guys ready to play.
Given everything that happened, it seemed unlikely the Tigers would win their season opener against Alonso. The host Ravens honored Walters with a moment of silence before the game. The emotion of losing a teammate was a powerful motivator. Williams got his players to believe.
The defense was stifling. The offense was steady. The result was a 12-7 victory.
“These guys have gone through so much that it was nice to put it all together and get the result they wanted,” Williams said. “It was a good win, a good start, to get these guys to believe.”
The last time Dunedin won a football game was on Oct. 10, 2014, 14-7 over Palm Harbor University. Since then the Falcons had lost 43 straight. The streak ended Friday.
Dunedin, which became an independent in football this season, defeated Keswick Christian 44-23 Friday. As an independent, the Falcons can play teams at their level until the program builds back up. But it won’t be easy to keep the streak going. Osceola, which defeated Gulf 40-0, is next.
Running back by committee
For many years, Nature Coast has built its offense around the running game. Last season, Mike Weston had 387 carries, more than triple that of any other back. Now that Weston is gone, the Sharks are looking for the next big back. After one game, it is clear they don’t have one.
Yes, Lenkel Smith had a 65-yard touchdown run in the 32-25 win over East Lake. But throw that big run out, and the Sharks had 85 rushing yards from six different backs. Quarterback Fabian Burnett threw for 146 yards and had two big touchdown passes.
But Nature Coast would much rather have a potent running game.
“I just need somebody to step up and it’s going to be tough,” coach Cory Johns said. “Kinyatah (Morgan) is probably our best defender and he could be our best back, but right now he’s got a back problem and is too tired to be as explosive as he can. (Smith) is kinda the same way. Trying to keep one of them fresh is going to be tough. Kyle (McIntosh) is younger and has a chance.”
Nature Coast hosts South Sumter on Friday night.
TBT back on track
After finishing last season on a three-game losing streak, Tampa Bay Tech coach Jayson Roberts was eager to atone for those struggles. He missed a good portion of those final three weeks in 2018 to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.
The biggest focus has been on defense. The Titans entered the season with a lot of fresh faces on that side of the ball after losing 10 of 11 starters. Roberts decided to take over that unit, too, calling plays for the first time in years.
Though inexperienced, Tampa Bay Tech has played well. In last week’s preseason game, the Titans held Sickles to six points, which came on a touchdown by backups on the final play. Friday, Tech’s defense remained stingy, shutting out a Chamberlain offense full of playmakers. Marcus Daye and Javon Pearson, both linebackers, have stood out so far.
“It was huge to beat Chamberlain and get some confidence going because we don’t really have any easy games,” Roberts said.
The next test comes this week when the Titans host Plant City and its high-powered offense.
‘Til depth do us part
Armwood’s schedule guarantees challenges from opponents on a weekly basis. The tougher task is finding playing time for a roster so talented and deep that the second- and third-stringers could easily start anywhere.
“Our daily challenge is how can we play with each other,” coach Evan Davis said. “Everyone wants to see us implode, so how can we make this work. It’s a chip on our shoulder. We’ve turned it around. No one is mad. We want to win. The touches will happen.”
Everything worked out perfectly for Armwood in the opener, with players rotating in on a consistent basis. Most of the backups played in the second half after the Hawks jumped out to a commanding lead in a 38-3 win over Plant.