Practice starts today around the state. Even with weeks left before we actually get football back, we look ahead to some fantastic week 1 contests.
Hardee at Fort Meade
This game ended 24 minutes, (or an entire half) early due to inclement weather last season, but then again so did every game on the peninsula it seemed at some point or another. The “official” result ended in a 22-7 victory for the hosts, Hardee. This year the Wildcats hit the road to face the Miners in Fort Meade, looking to extend their winning streak to three, which would be a rapid departure from the six of seven that Fort Meade had won previously in the series. You could make the case, that even though Frostproof gets all of the run as Fort Meade’s biggest rival, that this match-up with Hardee is their most-evenly contested and entertaining. By virtue of their victories the past two seasons, Hardee now leads 7-6 since 2004. The Wildcats have won back-to-back district championships, as well as compiled a 49-26 record since 2011. Fort Meade’s 5-5 season marked the end of a run that has been simply amazing, but an overall streak (as equally amazing) still stands. Up until that .500 season for the Miners in 2017, it had been 19-consecutive winning seasons, with 11 of those seasons with just one or two losses. Their streak of 20 consecutive non-losing seasons still proudly stands. Hardee graduated their QB Kai Washington, who played a major part before the game was called, but the ‘Cats return several key pieces from that 7-4 squad.
Wiregrass Ranch at Zephyrhills
Another series that’s been too close to call the last nine meetings with Zephyrhills holding the slightest of margins at 5-4 in that span. Last year’s contest ended after midnight with both offenses turning into pumpkins prematurely since the score at halftime of this affair was 28-22 in favor of Wiregrass. You would think a game (on paper) that saw a combined 10 points in the second half following a first half with 50 means it was anticlimactic at-best, but quite the contrary. Placekicker Hayden Wills booted a 35yd FG with 2:34 left in the game, but Z-Hills QB Charles Harrison III was able to orchestrate a drive to the Bulls’ goal line with time to spare. The ‘Dogs committed a procedure penalty on second down, ran for no-gain on third, then decided to pass instead of kick the winning FG, which ended in an interception and game over. Gone is Harrison III and his 3,000+ yards via ground and air, but back is Wiregrass signal-caller Grant Sessums, who finished 12-of-24 for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns in the contest last season. Gone are some important pieces on both sides of the ball for Wiregrass, but the cupboard is infinitely far from being bare following their best record in school history. Back for Zephyrhills is the explosive two-way player Jaquan Sheppard, plus all four of their leading receivers. We think excitement awaits yet again for what is becoming a must-see on the Eastside of Pasco County.
Frostproof at Avon Park
While we made mention of the rivalry between Fort Meade-Frostproof and its significance, this is a match-up between Polk and Highlands that garners an honest look-see. Much like the series between Fort Meade-Hardee has been closer than the one with Frostproof, this series with Avon Park for the Bulldogs has been closer with FHS holding an 8-6 lead the last fourteen meetings. The Red Devils have trounced Frostproof the last three seasons, winning by a combined 57-6 margin, but before that, the ‘Dogs had rattled off eight of nine in the series. This three year run has coincided with the Red Devils going 28-6, but having the unfortunate luck of running into Cocoa twice, and Jones another time in the Class 4A playoffs. They were just 5-26 the previous three seasons before this run. For the Red Devils, there’s no more Montrae Braswell or Thurlow “Rocketman” Wilkins, who combined for 2,271 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Frostproof, although just 12-10 the last two seasons, has still made the playoffs in Class 1A, and that most-definitely counts for something in our minds. There’s always a prospect or two walking those hallways, and with both teams seemingly closer to parity than the last three seasons, we can’t wait to see what transpires.
Hernando at Fivay
Do not adjust your mobile devices, or your laptops, or any other technological device you are hereby consuming this article. We know EXACTLY what we are aware of with this suggestion. Yes, we are aware that Hernando was 7-3 last season, and that they won this game 62-0, even without playing a preseason contest. Yes, we aware that Fivay is 3-16 the past two seasons and have been outscored 89-6 the past two games in this (albeit) brief three-game sample set. The Falcons DID, however, win this contest in 2015 in a 41-40 defense-optional contest. Yes, we are aware that the Leopards have gone through a coaching change, with Rob Kazmier now firmly at the helm. We believe that Hernando’s coaching change shouldn’t make one bit of difference on the negative side and can only mean positives, and we are also watching with some interest regarding Fivay and their recent absorption of Ridgewood High School. With that, some very key pieces have been added to that squad. The Falcons were firmly in control of their spring game with Pasco before it was stopped, so while we are NOT making a prediction, either way, something tells us that a 62-0 final scoreline isn’t on the docket for week one. If it still happens that way? Then, buddy, we’ve certainly got some talking points we weren’t anticipating having to make, one way or another. We feel this game has plenty of storylines surrounding it to make the trip up to West Pasco.
Tampa Bay Tech at Armwood
So this might be the game that, on paper, is actually the most-lopsided one out of all the contests listed. It feels like yesterday that the 25-20 contest between these two teams happened, but that was 2015. In fact, if not for the forfeitures on 2010 and 2011 for the Hawks, this series is 11-0 the past 11 meetings in favor of Armwood. The only two times in those 11 contests that this has been a one-score result, in the end, was that 2015 game just referenced, and in 2009 when they finished 9-6 on the scoreboard. Last year’s contest ended in favor of the Hawks 35-12, and Armwood is in the midst of a 66-6 record the past five seasons, with four regional championships and five consecutive district championships in that span. Tampa Bay Tech is 20-4 the last two seasons and coming off a regional finals appearance that ended in Venice. Gone is Michael Penix Jr for the Titans, but returning is RB Treshaun Ward and his explosive offense. Basically for Armwood, and we mean this sincerely, it doesn’t matter who is back. It’s reload time. On defense, expect pain and copious amounts of it. On offense, expect more of the same. While it would seem we are not making the case for a must-see here, that’s a YOU problem if you don’t want to check this game out simply based on the amount of talent on both rosters, the quality of coaching, plus the amount of recruiters and sets of eyes that stay glued to this matchup yearly.
If you decide to get out of town, or perhaps want to stay in-town and maybe see if something crazy happens? May we suggest these games:
Vero Beach at Venice
Braden River at Jacksonville Trinity Christian
Fort Myers Dunbar at Charlotte
Hillsborough at Plant
Manatee at Lakeland
Doug Pugh, BCP Contributor