Pinellas Park High (10-1) at East Lake High (11-0)
LAST MEETING: Oct. 25, 2013 at East Lake – Eagles 42, Patriots 12
*** Suncoast News Game of the Week ***
*** Full coverage and photos after the game at www.SuncoastNews.com ***
There’s an adage in sports that it’s hard to beat the same team multiple times in the same season, especially if that other team happens to be a quality opponent.
That’s what East Lake is faced with Friday night; taking out a gritty Pinellas Park squad that it already dealt with less than a month ago.
Considering the way East Lake manhandled the Patriots in October, there should be little reason to believe Friday’s game would be any different. But that was before the Eagles were pushed to the limit during last week’s first-rounder against visiting Palmetto, escaping with a 13-12 win.
That final is somewhat misleading, considering how East Lake seemed to beat down Palmetto in nearly every statistical category other than the score. But from Pinellas Park’s vantage point, it may also be a jolt of confidence that keeps players from dwelling upon the past.
Rather than allowing those not-so-distant memories of East Lake’s 42-12 domination to creep into their helmets, Patriots players can look at last week as a sign of vulnerability. Pinellas Park already comes into Friday night as that underdog team with nothing to lose. Now the Patriots smell blood in the water.
For East Lake, there’s one quick way to diffuse a situation like this. The Eagles need to do exactly what they did during the regular-season meeting, which is play their game, go up early and control the tempo. It’s the equivalent of a shot to the gut that knocks the wind out of a team and its crowd.
Simply put, East Lake is a better all-around team that should win this game easily – again. Emotions are a funny thing in sports, though; especially at the high school level. An early turnover here, a big Pinellas Park rushing gain there, and suddenly the Eagles could find themselves having another tense Friday night.
Tarpon Springs High (7-4) at Lakewood High (8-3)
LAST MEETING: Oct. 25, 2013 at Tarpon Springs – Spartans 46, Spongers 21
Tarpon Springs has picked a good time to be playing its best, most consistent football.
With Friday night’s region semifinal roadie against District 5A-8 champ Lakewood on deck, the Spongers need that to continue.
Just like East Lake-Pinellas Park, Lakewood-Tarpon Springs is the rematch of an October blowout. The Spartans came to Tarpon Springs and beat the Spongers 46-21, proving they are the district’s top team.
The good news for Tarpon Springs is that Lakewood can be somewhat erratic. The bad news is that the Spartans came out motivated last week and mopped the first-round floor with Hudson, 75-19.
Spongers coach Ron Hawn said earlier this week that the key to competing with Lakewood will be containment. Tarpon Springs can’t match the Spartans’ team speed and athleticism, so Lakewood’s going to rip off some plays where it gains chunks of yardage. The chore for the Tarpon Springs defense will be limiting those big plays to 10-15 yards rather than 40-plus.
Offensively, Tarpon Springs and Lakewood both know what the Spongers want to do. That’s run the ball and control the clock. To do so, it starts with creating holes for Michael Ford so he’s not constantly getting hit or having to change direction behind the line of scrimmage.
Looking at Tarpon Springs’ 163 rushing yards against Lakewood in October, it may seem like the Spongers did a pretty good job at moving the football on the ground. But they threw for only 30. Less than 200 yards of total offense is not an ingredient for winning football, not that week and not this week.
One unsettling trend Tarpon Springs would be wise to discontinue Friday night is how they’ve tended to start big games this year. These are the first-quarter scores of the Spongers’ four losses: Tampa Catholic (13-0), East Lake (14-0), Countryside (14-0), Lakewood (16-0).
That’s not a good place for any team to find itself, let alone one that doesn’t necessarily operate a quick-scoring offense.