Tarpon Springs High (6-4) at Anclote High (6-4)
LAST MEETING: Aug. 23, 2013 at Tarpon Springs – Spongers 28, Sharks 3
*** Suncoast News Game of the Week ***
*** Full coverage and photos after the game at www.SuncoastNews.com ***
This ain't the preseason anymore.
Following Tarpon Springs' 28-3 Kickoff Classic victory over Anclote, Spongers coach Ron Hawn said it's his hope to continue growing this nearby rivalry into something special. Go home-and-home on the preseason game, maybe start scheduling yearly regular-season meetings; something to generate consistent interest and expectations.
Friday night's Class 5A region quarterfinal playoff game at Anclote should put a charge into that effort.
Neither team is its county's top postseason representative, but this expects to be one of the area's top games in terms of matchups.
The Sharks and Spongers are fairly similar in makeup, in that they're not terribly deep, operate a run-heavy offense and have a handful of extremely talented individual players.
Running backs Michael Ford (Tarpon Springs) and Willie Barrett (Anclote) have both topped the 1,000-yard mark this season and fuel their respective team's success. Ford failed to hit 100 yards in five of Tarpon Springs' 10 games. The Spongers lost four of them. Similarly, Anclote lost three out of the four games Barrett didn't reach the century mark.
Tarpon Springs heads to Anclote looking to continue its late-season momentum. The Spongers have topped 60 points two weeks in a row after suffering back-to-back blowout losses. The Sharks will offer a much stiffer challenge than those last two opponents, Boca Ciega and Dixie Hollins, respectively.
Anclote saw its six-game winning streak halted last week at Clearwater Central Catholic, although there's no shame in that. The Marauders are a Class 3A state championship contender.
Palmetto High (5-5) at East Lake High (10-0)
East Lake may very well mop the floor with visiting Palmetto on Friday night, but the Tigers are not your typical .500 ball club and this isn't the time to start daydreaming about potential third- and fourth-round matchups.
Palmetto has played a more difficult schedule than East Lake and handled itself pretty well in some. The Tigers were one of the few teams not to be completely dominated by Bradenton Manatee and came within a touchdown of Lakewood High. On the other hand, they also dropped clunkers to Bradenton Southeast and Sarasota, the District 7A-10 champ with a 5-5 record that's hosting Pinellas Park on Friday.
Playing a huge factor in Friday night's game, though, is the availability of running back and Rutgers commit Josh Hicks. The senior, listed as a 5-foot-11, 195-pound athlete with a quick initial burst and solid cutback ability in traffic, did not play during last week' loss against Southeast. Quincy Washington took his place and rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns, according to the Bradenton Herald's game recap.
For East Lake, the Eagles should mentally handle this game like last month's district-title clincher against Pinellas Park. That Oct. 25 matchup had the appearance of a possible nail-biter, maybe even a trap game. But the Eagles have legitimate aspirations of contending for a trip to states. If they're struggling to beat Pinellas Park, those potential games with Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer or Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas are going to be pretty ugly. So when that October date with the Patriots came around, East Lake ran out and jumped Pinellas Park early, asserted their clear dominance, and went on to win with ease, 42-12.
That's exactly what the Eagles need to do Friday night. As written earlier, this is not the time to be playing around.