We continue with another batch of games…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 has storylines surrounding them and these were just ten we picked from nearly 70 games in our coverage area. See Part 1 HERE
East Lake at Hillsborough
The Eagles were arguably the hottest team in Pinellas County at the end of the season, but an unfortunate series of events that led to forfeitures derailed any hopes they had for the postseason, a streak that had extended to eight consecutive before until last season. They defeated the Terriers in this match-up last season 16-0, but gone is starting QB Tucker Gleason, who is off to Plant. One thing we know about East Lake throughout the last decade at least, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and under Bob Hudson’s guidance, East Lake should be right back to the perch we’ve become accustomed to seeing them sooner, rather than later. Hillsborough finished 8-4 and in the second round of the playoffs last season following an impressive road win at Lake Gibson. They too were involved in the QB carousel this offseason and former Tampa Catholic, then Plant, now Hillsborough QB Charlie Dean is ready to take control of the reigns. While last season was an unmitigated disaster on so many fronts from a weather and rescheduling standpoint, the Terriers found themselves much closer to a dream season than just ‘another’ season. They logged impressive wins over Jefferson, Chamberlain and the aforementioned Lake Gibson, but were oh-so-close against Tampa Bay Tech and took Plant to the final whistle before losing 9-7.
Clearwater at Cocoa
It was a “down” season for the Tornadoes compared to the standard that Head Coach Don Mesick and his staff had established over the past few seasons. Clearwater finished the season at 6-5 and as the eighth-seed after going 24-9 the previous three seasons along with two district championships. For some perspective, it took Clearwater seven years to win 23 games, so consider that and consider that if a “down” year still results in the postseason, then also consider the culture officially changed and expectations of winning abound. Their opponent comes with a metric ton of intrigue since longtime Head Coach John Wilkinson decided to stop making the commute from his home in New Smyrna Beach and simply start coaching his hometown team. Nobody, and we mean NOBODY combined the principles of winning with coaching stability plus the state’s transfer rules. We also mean that in the nicest way possible as well. No salt. Cocoa would have 3x’s as many titles if weren’t for the fact they’ve been in the south with the Miami teams the vast majority of their seasons of dominance. With Wilkinson gone, what does that roster look like? That’s to be determined, but what doesn’t need to be decided any further is that if Clearwater is ready to make a statement right out of the box and without hesitation, then this is the right time to do it, and against a legacy program. Does not matter if it is the preseason or not.
Chamberlain at Sickles
Don’t look now, but there’s a storm brewing on Busch Avenue. Chamberlain went 8-3 and was in the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons and lost a heartbreaker to Mitchell in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. This season, while we won’t speak for them in full, we get the feeling that pretty much everything is personal. With the number of returners with bad tastes in their mouths from 2017, and with the playmakers they possess on offense and just a downright rude disposition on defense, they’ve got some juice. But wait, the slight speed bump in the road is that their two regular-season losses came in-district to Armwood and Hillsborough. The Chiefs lost to Armwood 24-7 last season, which actually ended up being the closest game Armwood played until the third round of the playoffs. Their loss to traditional rival Hillsborough (28-14) is probably the one that stings the most, and so with that in mind, the Chiefs have doubled-down on themselves and made the Terriers their homecoming game this season JUST to up the ante even more. The Gryphons are simply trying to get the ship righted after a run of 35-12 for four years recently. Last year’s 3-7 campaign is just something we haven’t been used to seeing from them.
South Sumter at Wildwood
Two of Florida’s most-recognized rural programs lining up garners Sumter County’s full attention. Last season, the Raiders went 0-9 for the first time since the schools of Webster and Bushnell merged in 1959 to form South Sumter. Just one season before in Head Coach Ty Lawrence’s first season on the job, they finished 10-2. What makes last season so astonishing is that since 2000, South Sumter has racked-up eleven 10+ win season, to go along with 14 district championships. Something that points to good news for the Raiders is that the last time they faced a losing season at 2-8 in 2010, they rattled off a record of 62-11 before 2017’s debacle. That kind of consistency from a small public school is amazing, and with record numbers out for the spring, summer, and now fall workouts, the rebound is on its way. Wildwood, on the other hand, finished their 2017 season with a 9-1 record under McKinley Rolle. Ordinarily, the kind of season you’d otherwise expect from the Wildcats throughout the decades—but not so fast. The four seasons leading up to 2017, Wildwood was 2-28, including a season in which they did not even field a team. Gone is Rolle, who took a job at Garden City Community College, and gone is First Academy-Leesburg off the schedule with Jacksonville’s University Christian instead. Not gone are 22 of the 30 players from their roster in 2017.
Kathleen at Lake Wales
Going to feel weird not seeing Irv Strickland roaming the sidelines for the Red Devils after nine seasons on the job, compiling a 73-42 record (on the field) for Kathleen to pair with two district championships. Gone is Strickland after a 4-6 season, but the Red Devils were less than 2 points from being the 8th seed in the 7A playoffs behind Winter Haven. Their two losses to county rivals Lakeland and Lake Gibson were by a combined eight points. Kathleen gave up 97 points in the first three games counting week zero plus the first two games of the regular season. After a 0-2 start, they rattled off four of five games and a 2-1 district record, which would’ve had them in the playoffs if this was 2016, but to no avail in 2017. Lake Wales won this game last season 19-0 in the preseason and will return absolute studs at QB, RB, and WR to go along with some key pieces on the defensive side of the ball. The Highlanders finished 7-3 and with a 4-1 road record, but losses in-district to Sebring and Lake Gibson doomed them as potential 8-seed in the 6A playoffs, finishing less than two points behind Sebring for that final slot.