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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Week 1 doesn’t disappoint

Blowouts. Shutouts. Upsets. The opening week of the 2019 high school football season had it all.
Armwood and Plant get in position for the next play while the sun sets in the background on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 in Seffner. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published Aug. 25
Updated Aug. 25

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.

RELATED: Football: Berkeley Prep 21, Clearwater Central Catholic 14

Player of the Week: Mario Williams, Plant City

Plant City's Mario Williams (2) returns to the sideline after scoring a touchdown vs. Tampa Bay Tech last season. [Times]

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.

RELATED: Football: Plant City 37, Jesuit 29

Coach of the Week: Mike Williams, Middleton

Mike Williams is Middleton High's new football coach. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

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.”

RELATED: New Middleton coach Mike Williams heeds calling to return home

New streak

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

Nature Coast senior Lenkel Smith gets swarmed by East Lake defenders during first-half action Friday night. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

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.

RELATED: Football: Nature Coast 32, East Lake 25

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.

RELATED: Football: Tampa Bay Tech 25, Chamberlain 0

‘Til depth do us part

Armwood backup quarterback Hunter Helton saw action Friday night against Plant. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

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.

RELATED: Football: Armwood 38, Plant 3

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Robinson junior Meg Courtney, center, celebrates after sealing up a 25-16, 21-25, 25-15, 25-17 victory over Land O' Lakes in the Class 5A, District 6 title match. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The Knights may not have as many reps as other top teams, but appear solid in dispatching Land O’ Lakes for the district title.
  2. Football teams around Tampa Bay are in action for Week 9 of the regular season. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    And the unbeaten Warriors close in on their first district title.
  3. The St. Petersburg High volleyball team is all smiles with their district trophy. RODNEY PAGE  |  Times
    The Green Devils win their second straight district volleyball championship.
  4. Football teams around Tampa Bay are in action for Week 9 of the regular season. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    Another league match looms for the Mustangs, who are still very much in the playoff hunt.
  5. USF defensive back KJ Sails (9) breaks up a pass intended for South Carolina State wide receiver Will Vereen during a Sept. 14 game at Raymond James Stadium. CHRIS O'MEARA  |  Associated Press
    Life, and death, compelled the East Bay High alumnus to transfer from North Carolina
  6. Steinbrenner has given everyone plenty to cheer about this season and can all but clinch the district title with a win over Palm Harbor University. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    It’s a big week of district matchups. Let’s just hope the rain stays away.
  7. Osceola remains unbeaten on the season and claims the district crown. CHUCK FRYE  |  Special to the Times
    The Warriors keep a smaller Boca Ciega squad guessing while winning in straight sets.
  8. Wiregrass Ranch hitter Kayla McCarter celebrates after a 25-18, 25-13, 25-22 victory over Sunlake in the Class 6A, District 5 final.  SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The Bulls dispatch top seeds East Lake and Sunlake en route to the Class 6A-5 title.
  9. Volleyball teams around Tampa Bay are in action for districts this week. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The Hurricanes claim another district title and, perhaps more importantly in a tough region, a first-round game at home.
  10. Keswick Christian, pictured here with coach Karrmayne King earlier this season, tops Academy at the Lakes in the district final. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The Crusaders top Academy at the Lakes to secure their first region appearance since 2015.
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