These games may not count in the official records, but there is no need to give us a better reason to say these are some of the best match-ups we can ask for—regardless of timing. Every one of these games have storylines surrounding them and these were just ten we picked from nearly 70 games in our coverage area.
Armwood at Sarasota-Riverview
An absolutely awesome way to get the season (albeit preseason) going with this match-up. The Class 6A runners-up hop down to Sarasota to take on 8A Riverview squad that had everyone reliving 2004, when the Rams were regional champions. Riverview finished 10-2 last season and were 8A Region 2 semifinalists. The Rams had eventual state champions Dr. Phillips on the ropes at home, but a costly turnover that ended up for six points the other way stemmed the tide. That kind of bad taste when coupled with an offense that is the epitome of a meat-grinder could spell trouble for virtually everyone on their schedule this season. There is no secret to what the Rams want to do, which is run the ball. Which is why we are so geeked about this game quite frankly. Armwood has simply reloaded from a 14-1 team that was the #1-overall seed in all classes but simply ran into a buzzsaw in Miami Northwestern in the title game. There is also no secret to what Armwood wants to do—which is everything. Score through the air, score on the ground, and then watch that defense go to work. While it may be preseason, health is important for the Hawks. Tampa Bay Tech awaits week one, in what is guaranteed to be a game filled with emotion and physicality.
Plant at Venice
Just as excited for this game as we are about the Hawks at the Rams. The Panthers make their way down I-75 to the Cultural Coast and to the reigning Class 7A State Champions. Needless to say it has been a drama-filled summer for Indians and their program, but with things back in-place just as they were at the end of the 2017 season, Venice looks to hit the ground running—or shall we say, throwing? Hayden Wolff is now the starter after transferring from Lemon Bay last season, and whether or not he fills Bryce Carpenter’s shoes is not of importance, he has legit P-5 talent himself, so simply being Hayden Wolff should suit just fine. Things are poppin’ right now at Venice, as both baseball and girls volleyball won state titles last season to accompany football. If there’s anyone that understands what the label #TitleTown is all about, it’s their opponents from South Tampa. The Panthers are probably irritated beyond a rational belief that they haven’t hoisted the trophy since 2011, but they were in Orlando in 2016, and their streak of district championships now stands at thirteen. Their win-loss record is even more amazing, but it’s about rings, so no more numbers. The last two seasons, this game has been back-and-forth and very entertaining, absolutely nothing indicates to us things are about to change, so buckle up.
Largo at Jones
Are you sensing a theme, yet? Anticipation. The Jones Tigers were victims of terrible regional assignments, as they are a Class 5A-Region 4 team, which meant they had to face a gauntlet of teams from down south like Cardinal Gibbons and American Heritage before even getting the chance to sniff a chance at playing (literally) in their backyard at Camping World Stadium. Their 9-2 season came to an end in the first round to Gibbons, a team that averaged 50 points per game, and they gave the Chiefs all they could handle. Largo is seemingly on the fast track to an even better season than their undefeated in-district campaign and an 8-3 record overall. We recently saw on social media that all-state DT Jacquaze Sorrells had announced his transfer, but make no mistake that Head Coach Marcus Paschal and his staff have worked tirelessly to create an atmosphere where the sum is greater than the parts, and they’ll need to lean on that mantra with a loaded schedule and a vastly-improved Clearwater team waiting for them later in the season. One thing is for certain, there will be plenty of playmakers on the field representing both squads, and this is a game that potentially holds a ton of entertainment value.
Clearwater Central Catholic at Wiregrass Ranch
These two teams played a very close game in the preseason last season with CCC winning 21-19, with both teams going on to have wildly-successful seasons in the process. The Bulls experienced their best season in school history at 9-3 and a second-round appearance in the Class 7A playoffs. Tons of graduations at key spots for Head Coach Mark Kantor and his staff, but returning is QB Grant Sessums and a roster that is still plenty good enough to accomplish great things this season. The Marauders were state semifinalists in Class 3A and finished with their best season in school history as well at 11-1. CCC is in the midst of an insane run since 2012, compiling a record of 65-11 and 5 regional championships in the process. Although they graduated nine starters on defense, that didn’t stop them from putting up an impressive performance against city-rivals Clearwater in the spring, winning 38-21. Jerjuan and Jerzahn Newton both logged INT’s in that game, but we get the feeling you’ll be reading that quite a bit this season along with the connection of Rory Hicks to TE Brett Seither. Both teams have intriguing match-ups week one, with Wiregrass Ranch taking on Zephyrhills and CCC pitted against Berkeley Prep.
Winter Haven at Lake Gibson
The Blue Devils and the Braves lock horns in a classic (and quality) Polk County match-up for the preseason. Lake Gibson trounced Winter Haven 35-7 in week zero of last season, but if history serves as a guide, the Blue Devils won’t tolerate a third consecutive 6-win season in spite of making the playoffs in 2017 under the new system as rewards for playing a tough schedule. Winter Haven was excruciatingly close to knocking off Lakeland in the first round losing 17-13, after getting drubbed by the Dreadnaughts 55-7 less than 30 days beforehand. Lake Gibson were in the playoffs as the 4-seed and as district champions but fell to Hillsborough just one year removed from their state title game versus Carol City. The Braves have made the postseason for nine consecutive seasons, while the Blue Devils before their recent hiccup, logged four 10+ win seasons out of five seasons prior. Both teams are never short on a playmaker or two, and although it’s a shame they don’t play each other in the regular season when perhaps full strength is in order, but this is still as good as it gets in the heartland of the peninsula.