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Dixie Hollins keeps the faith, ends long playoff drought

Sunday Morning Quarterback: Dale Caparaso’s 2017 plan to build for the future pays off in the present.
Dixie Hollins coach Dale Caparaso celebrates with wife Anne after his Rebels defeat Boca Ciega for the district title. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Oct. 27

Highlights from Week 10 of the high school football season:

Team of the Week: Dixie Hollins

Dale Caparaso decided to go with a youth movement when he took over at Dixie Hollins two years ago. He started eight sophomores in 2017. There were growing pains that resulted in plenty of losses. But the coach vowed that the program would eventually matter in football. That was was enough for the players. They stayed instead bolting for other schools.

On Friday, those eight sophomores who started in 217 were among those honored on senior night. They all played significant roles in the final district game of their high school careers.

Garion Young made highlight-worthy catches. River Wood grinded out tough yards on each carry. Dezuan Davis made amends for a dropped pass by coming up with the game’s two biggest plays, a touchdown catch that put the Rebels ahead and an interception with seconds left that sealed a 27-26 victory over Boca Ciega.

RELATED: Burden eased as Dixie Hollins claims first district title in decades

The win secured Dixie Hollins’ first playoff berth since 2005 and its first district title since 1995, the last — and only — time the program made a state championship game. The game had all kinds of wild momentum swings. Down 20-9 in the fourth quarter, the Rebels scored three touchdowns to pull off the win.

“I’m 63 and I think I turned 103 now that this game is over,” Caparaso said.

In the postgame huddle, Caparaso praised the defensive effort, calling it the best performance he has seen in four decades of coaching. Though Boca Ciega running back Chris Phillips scored on two short runs, he was contained most of the night. Then Caparaso talked about the dedication, the workouts, the practices that started almost as soon as last season ended.

“You all are going to make me cry,” Caparaso said.

Too late. The coach started choking up as Dixie Hollins players surrounded him in one big group hug.

Player of the Week: David Wright, Tampa Bay Tech

The Titans were in a must-win situation at Wiregrass Ranch on Friday night. Losers of three straight, they needed a win to keep their playoffs hopes alive. To make things even more difficult, top running back Osmanis Aguilera was out with an injury. Wright took over.

The junior was 20-for-23 passing for 256 yards and three touchdowns in an impressive 48-16 win. He hit 14 of his first 15 passes. One of the bigger touchdown passes came with nine seconds left in the first half when he hit Daunte Harris on a 23-yard touchdown.

Wright struggled in the three losses prior to Friday. He threw for fewer than 100 yards against Gaither and Armwood, and was just 13-for-33 against Bloomingdale.

“Win the game or no playoffs. We had to win this. If we didn’t we’d have to depend on someone else,” Wright said.

RELATED: David Wright can’t miss for Tampa Bay Tech

Coach of the Week: Bob Hudson, East Lake

Coach Bob Hudson has East Lake on the cusp of returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]

After an eight-year playoff run, East Lake missed the postseason in 2017 and 2018. This year, the Eagles have a chance to end that drought.

Entering Friday, East Lake had the eighth — and final — spot in its region based on RPI rankings. To stay there, even possibly move up, the Eagles had to keep winning. That meant knocking off Class 7A, District 9 frontrunner Pinellas Park, the team East Lake lost to on the field for the first time a year ago.

Hudson helped the Eagles regain their dominance in the series. After giving up a 73-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage, East Lake took control, at one point scoring 31 straight points in a convincing 41-13 victory. By winning, the Eagles forced a three-way tie with the Patriots and Mitchell at the top of the district standings. The winner will be decided by the highest RPI ranking at the end of the season.

RELATED: East Lake throttles Pinellas Park to keep playoff hopes alive

Extra points

• Hernando helped its slim playoff hopes by beating county rival Nature Coast 20-7 in its final game of the regular season. The Leopards are 5-5 and will have to wait to see if that is good enough. But a loss to the Sharks would have definitely ended the season. It’s a strong finish for a young team that expected to rebuild this season. “We’ve won some big games, played in playoff games. Definitely biggest win since I’ve been here,’’ Hernando coach Rob Kazmir said.

RELATED: Hernando dispatches district champ Nature Coast with ease

• Lakewood has played nine games and not allowed a touchdown in seven of them. Largo scored a field goal on its first possession and didn’t score again in Friday night’s 35-3 Lakewood win. The Spartans are one game from going 10-0 for the second time in school history.

RELATED: Lakewood defense keeps Largo out of the end zone

• Jesuit won its sixth district championship in seven seasons after beating Bradenton Bayshore. Junior quarterback Kiael Kelly threw three touchdowns and ran for another. The Tigers are 7-2 with a game against rival Tampa Catholic remaining.

RELATED: Jesuit wins district, showcases offensive linemen

• Springstead’s 26-21 loss to Lake Minneola was costly. Not only did it end the Eagles’ undefeated start, but it squashed their hopes of a district title. Still, Springstead is in good shape to make the postseason with an at-large bid thanks to their solid RPI ranking.

• Calvary Christian helped itself immensely by beating Ocala Trinity Catholic 35-28. Heading into the week, the Warriors were 0.003 points behind in their RPI ranking for the final playoff spot. That could change with this win.

RELATED: Calvary Christian wanted a test, meets the challenge

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Clearwater senior quarterback Rent Montie has thrown for 200-plus yards in five games this season. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    Tony Bartalo vs. Rent Montie pits two 2,000-yard passers against each other. And they’re not the only quarterbacks faring well in the playoffs this season.
  2. Seffner Christian quarterback Isaiah Knowles has thrown for 1,474 yards and 17 touchdowns despite missing four games this season. Times
    The senior quarterback, and Navy commit, has helped dictate the Crusaders’ fortunes, especially their playoff ones.
  3. Tre'von Riggins, a University of Miami commit, has been a force for the Lakewood defense since he transferred from IMG Academy. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    The “Duke Energy Boys” have helped drive an unbeaten season, not giving up a touchdown in seven games.
  4. Mitchell quarterback Ezra Brennan has already surpassed 2,000 yards passing this season. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
    The learning curve isn’t too steep for the first-year Mustangs starter, whose unflappable nature can be traced to the other sport he excels in — baseball.
  5. Indiana wide receiver Whop Philyor of Plant High makes a move around Northwestern defensive lineman Joe Gaziano on Nov. 2  in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana won 34-3. DOUG MCSCHOOLER  |  AP
    Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota have become feel-good stories in college football this season, with coaches and players who have roots locally.
  6. Clearwater Central Catholic's Zac Elam says that one of the offensive line's strengths is that "we’re really close as a group." DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
    While often inconspicuous, the Marauders’ offensive line knows its value this season.
  7. Nature Coast's Dedric Hall does a little bit of everything for the Sharks, which is why they're in the second round of the playoffs. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    The junior can burn you in the running game. He’s nifty in the passing game. And if you’re not careful, he’ll pick off your quarterback, too.
  8. Admiral Farragut's Martel Mott takes off after intercepting a pass by Cambridge Christian's Titan Williamson during the teams' Sept. 13 regular-season matchup. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    One thing is certain in the playoffs under the new format: rematches from the regular season.
  9. Not only is Riverview's Alyssa Hendrix a two-times state champ in cross country, but her latest title follows two earlier this year in state track. Hendrix, pictured here from the spring, won the 3,200- and 1,600-meter titles in May. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The final tally: Two individual champs, three team champs and a host of individual medalists.
  10. Clearwater Central Catholic’s Jordan Niles, right, hugs Calvary Christian’s Richie Ilarraza after the Marauders’ playoff win. Niles is a former Calvary player. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Sunday Morning QB: Clearwater Central Catholic, Steinbrenner and Chamberlain are just a few of the standouts in the region quarterfinals.
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