All seven local teams face stiff challenges on Friday night in their respective state semifinals. Here’s a breakdown of each matchup:
Class 2A: Seffner Christian (10-3) at Hialeah Champagnat (8-3)
How they got here: Seffner Christian, the No. 3 seed in Region 3, defeated No. 6 Zephyrhills Christian 35-6, No. 2 Northside Christian 49-21, No. 4 Admiral Farragut 40-19. Champagnat, the No. 1 seed in Region 4, defeated No. 5 Miami Christian 35-7, Moore Haven 42-0.
Up next: Jacksonville University Christian-Lakeland Victory Christian winner, 7 p.m. Dec. 5 in Tallahassee
Key matchup: Seffner Christian receiver Michael Trigg vs. Champagnat safety Jalen Harrell. The Crusaders received good news earlier this week when Trigg did not receive a suspension after getting ejected in the region final. Trigg’s clearance keeps the Crusaders’ potent passing game intact. The coveted recruit will likely be going up against Harrell, a four-star prospect who is projected to commit to Miami.
How Seffner Christian can win: The Crusaders are playing in the state semifinals for the first time, but they cannot let the experience be too overwhelming, especially against an opponent that has won two state titles. If Seffner Christian can overcome any jitters, it certainly has the playmakers to win.
Rodney Page’s prediction: Champagnat 41-21. The Lions have played a difficult schedule and should be ready for this one.
Bob Putnam’s prediction: Seffner Christian 35-34. The offensive firepower is just enough for the Crusaders to squeak by.
Class 3A: Clearwater Central Catholic (10-3) at Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna (10-2)
How they got here: CCC, the No. 5 seed in Region 3, defeated No. 4 Calvary Christian 49-28,. No. 1 Berkeley Prep 34-28, No. 2 Fort Myers Bishop Verot 35-28. Chaminade, the No. 2 seed in Region 4, defeated Somerset Academy 56-0, No. 1 Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian 35-0.
Up next: Florida State University-Lakeland Christian winner, 7 p.m. Dec. 6 in Tallahassee
Key matchup: The trenches. Clearwater Central Catholic’s offensive line, led by center Zac Elam, is considered one of the best in the area, if not the state. That group specializes in run blocking. If the ground is unable to eat up yards and the clock, then Chaminade’s defensive front can do what it does best: get the quarterback. Edge rushers Kijuan Reid-Jacques and Kenyatta Jackson Jr. have a combined 21 sacks.
How CCC can win: Stay the course. The Marauders have been here before. This is their fourth straight playoff game on the road and their third straight meeting with Chaminade. And the games are getting more competitive. After losing by 46 points two years ago, CCC lost by 16 in last year’s rematch.
Rodney Page’s prediction: Chaminade-Madonna 24-7. The Lions haven’t allowed a touchdown in the past three games. They haven’t allowed more than one touchdown in seven games.
Bob Putnam’s prediction: CCC 10-7. The Marauders finally break through against their playoff nemesis.
Class 4A: Miami Washington (11-2) at Lakewood (12-0)
How they got here: Lakewood, the No. 1 seed in Region 3, defeated No. 5 Clewiston 35-0, No. 3 Tampa Catholic 29-7. Washington, the No. 4 seed in Region 4, defeated No. 5 Miami Carol City 35-14, No. 1 Gulliver Prep 34-31, No. 3 Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons 31-21.
Up next: Jacksonville Bolles-Cocoa winner, 7 p.m. Dec. 11 in Daytona.
Key matchup: Washington quarterback Torey Morrison vs. Lakewood’s defense. Morrison has thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. The Spartans defense has only allowed an average of six points per game.
How Lakewood can win: The Spartans have to cut down on penalties and the offense has to be efficient. If the offense can stay on the field and keep the defense fresh, they have a shot at slowing down Morrison with their pass rush and secondary play.
Rodney Page’s prediction: Washington 21-14. It’s hard to pick against Lakewood at home, but the Tornadoes score late to hold on.
Bob Putnam’s prediction: Lakewood 16-12. The defense makes enough plays for the Spartans to make history.
Class 5A: Jesuit (11-2) at Miami Northwestern (11-2)
How they got here: Jesuit, the No. 4 seed in Region 3, defeated No. 5 Melbourne Eau Gallie 45-9, No. 8 Chamberlain 30-7, No. 2 Lake Wales 53-21. Northwestern, the No. 2 seed in Region 4, defeated No. 7 Stranahan 63-0, No. 6 Miami Killian 47-3, no. 1 Plantation American Heritage 23-20.
Up next: Wakulla-Orlando Jones winner, noon Dec. 14 in Daytona.
Key matchup: Northwestern receivers vs. Jesuit’s secondary. Bulls freshman quarterback Taron “Tyga” Dickens has completed at least 15 passes each to seven different receivers. All seven have caught at least one touchdown pass. The Tigers have to defend in the secondary or it could be a long night.
How Jesuit can win: The Tigers have overcome injuries (five players are missing due to ACL injuries) and have still found ways to win. The defense has to remain solid and the running game has to continue to grind it out.
Rodney Page’s prediction: Northwestern 28-7. Northwestern shut out Armwood 22-0 in last year’s Class 6A state championship. The Bulls haven’t dropped off this season.
Bob Putnam’s prediction: Jesuit 17-13. The Tigers have been agonizingly close to reaching the state final. They finally get there by playing ball control.
Class 6A: Gaither (12-1) at Escambia (13-0)
How they got here: Gaither, the No. 1 seed in Region 2, defeated No. 8 Boca Ciega 47-27, No. 5 Clearwater 27-20, No. 3 Lake Minneola 41-7. Escambia, the No. 1 seed in Region 1, defeated No. 8 New Smyrna Beach 44-0, No. 4 Mainland 27-7, No. 2 Jacksonville Lee 39-13.
Up next: Palmetto-Miami Central winner, 7 p.m. Dec. 12 in Daytona.
Key matchup: Gaither’s defensive line vs. Escambia’s defensive line. Both teams are facing prolific passers in Gaither’s Tony Bartalo (2,936 yards) and Escambia’s A V Smith (2,404 yards). The Cowboys have 48 sacks, led by Mario Eugenio’s 12. The Gators have 30 sacks, led by Xavier Johnson’s nine.
How Gaither can win: Bartalo has to remain hot, and why shouldn’t he? He has been good all season and if he can start fast like he did last week against Lake Minneola, it will take the jitters of playing a road game out of the equation.
Rodney Page’s prediction: Gaither 32-30. It’s a lot to ask traveling to a different time zone, but the Cowboys have enough offense to pull it off.
Bob Putnam’s prediction: Gaither 28-27. This is the first time the Cowboys have been on the road in the playoffs, a trip that could result in a state championship appearance.
Class 7A: Orlando Edgewater (12-1) at Armwood (12-1)
How they got here: Armwood, the No. 1 seed in Region 2, defeated No. 8 Melbourne 57-0, No. 5 Bloomingdale 20-9, No. 2 Lakeland 23-10. Edgewater, the No. 1 seed in Region 1, defeated No. 8 Crestview 31-14, No. 5 Tallahassee Lincoln 23-17, No. 2 Niceville 28-20.
Up next: Venice-Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas winner, 7 p.m. Dec. 14 in Daytona.
Key matchup: Fresh off stopping Lakeland running back and Clemson commit Dermarkcus Bowman in last week’s region final, the Hawks face another dynamic back in Isaiah Connelly, who has rushed for 2,017 yards and 22 touchdowns. If Armwood can neutralize Connelly and make the Eagles one dimensional, this game can become lopsided.
How Armwood can win: Stay focused. The Hawks are still reveling in their win over defending state champion Lakeland and could end up facing nationally ranked Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the 7A title game. To get there, Armwood has to beat Edgewater, which is ranked among the top teams in the state and is playing in the semifinals for the second straight season.
Rodney Page’s prediction: Armwood 27-6. The Hawks beat Lakeland last week, the first time they have ever done that. They aren’t going to lose to Edgewater.
Bob Putnam’s prediction: Armwood 21-3. Once again, the defense delivers for the Hawks.
Class 8A: Steinbrenner (12-1) at Apopka (11-1)
How they got here: Steinbrenner, the No. 4 seed in Region 2, defeated No. 5 Newsome 49-20, No. 1 Sarasota Riverview 27-24, No. 3 Kissimmee Osceola 29-22. Apopka, the No. 3 seed in Region 1, defeated No. 6 Flagler Palm Coast 42-25, No. 2 Bartram Trail 34-13, No.1 Sanford Seminole 20-0.
Up next: Deerfield Beach-Miami Columbus winner, 7 p.m. Dec. 13 in Daytona
Key matchup: Steinbrenner’s offense vs. Apopka’s defense. The Warriors are averaging 34 points per game. The Blue Darters are allowing just eight points per game. Something has to give in this one.
How Steinbrenner can win: Get off to a strong start. During this storybook season, the Warriors have trailed by two scores once (against Chamberlain in the regular-season finale). That also marked the only time Steinbrenner lost this season. If Steinbrenner can get ahead or stay within striking distance, it can win yet another game against a quality opponent on the road.
Rodney Page’s prediction: Apopka 26-23. Apopka has experience and is at home, which is enough to get by in this one.
Bob Putnam’s prediction: Steinbrenner 14-10. Momentum is a big thing. And the Warriors have a ton of it after beating Sarasota Riverview and Kissimmee Osceola on the road the past two weeks.