The playoffs are upon us. It’s amazing that we got here so quickly, but with so many solid first round matchups on tap on Friday night it’s hard to pick just five games to dissect.
Here is a quick preview of my 17 favorite playoff matchups around the Tampa Bay area in the opening round of the 2016 high school football postseason.
Manatee (7-3) at Dr. Phillips (8-2)
This 8A region quarterfinal is going to be fun to watch. UCF commit and quarterback Marvin Washington goes head-to-head with Manatee quarterback AJ Colagiovanni. Both senior starters are dual-threat players. NC State commit and Dr. Phillips linebacker Nick Smith is a guy to watch on defense while linebacker Garrett Ware and athlete Tarique Milton are going to be counted on to make plays for Manatee.
Prediction: Dr. Phillips 30, Manatee 28
Winter Haven (8-2) at Plant (9-0)
Plant completed its first undefeated regular season since 2006. While Winter Haven is loaded with talent starting with quarterback William Tate (19 total touchdowns), running back Ja’Veon Marlow (10 touchdowns) and wide receiver Terrance Anglin (7 touchdowns). In this region quarterfinal, I expect the Panthers to come out determined with senior quarterback Dane Frantzen putting his body on the line all night.
Prediction: Plant 38, Winter Haven 20
St. Pete (8-1) at Tampa Bay Tech (8-1)
St. Pete has been playing solid football with quarterback Austyn Causey and wide receiver Matt Landers putting up numbers. They’ll have a tough matchup against Tampa Bay Tech, a complete team led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr. This will be close, but I expect the home team to take this one.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Tech 27, St. Pete 21
Durant (8-2) at East Lake (7-1)
East Lake won District-10 while Durant finished as the runner-up to Tampa Bay Tech in District-9. This will be the game of the quarterbacks with East Lake’s Tyler Rupe (14 total touchdowns) and Durant’s Carlton Potter (20 total scores) squaring off.
Prediction: Durant 23, East Lake 20
Wiregrass Ranch (7-2) at Lakeland (7-2)
Nothing about going to Lakeland High School to play a football game is ever easy. But for Wiregrass Ranch, who has done a complete 180 in Mark Kantor’s second year in charge, there is finally hope. Da Da McGee has 10 rushing touchdowns, Ryan Scamarado and Jason Winston each have 4.5 sacks and Shamaur McDowell (4 interceptions) and Jordan Miner (3 interceptions) have performed very well. Will that be enough against an always technical Lakeland group? I think they can pull off the upset.
Prediction: Wiregrass Ranch 27, Lakeland 23
Port Charlotte (8-1) at Clearwater (9-1)
Clearwater’s lone loss on the season came in the opener on the road at Cocoa, since then the Tornadoes have rattled off nine straight wins. They play host to a fierce Port Charlotte squad. Quarterback Austin Day, athlete Jacquez Jones and defensive end Tramar Reece are the trio to watch for Clearwater.
Prediction: Clearwater 27, Port Charlotte 21
Hillsborough (8-1) at Lake Gibson (9-0)
Lake Gibson has just one losing season over the last 13 years. With running back Travell Jones adding 21 touchdowns on the ground, he will be looking to implement himself in this game from the jump. Hillsborough’s defense has been stellar with defensive end Zachary Carter and cornerback Ken Montgomery Jr. battling. Quarterback Tyler Thomas and running back Duran Bell Jr. will be leaned on for long drives offensively in this quarterfinal.
Prediction: Lake Gibson 34, Hillsborough 23
Auburndale (5-4) at Armwood (9-1)
Armwood is so stacked offensively with dual-threat quarterback Devin Black and complete running backs Brian Snead and Erin Collins doing their thing. Defensively, seniors Jabreel Stephens and Deon Morgan are playmakers. Auburndale has a nice junior running back in Quantae Brown. The Hawks are too good, simple and plain.
Boca Ciega (5-3) at Charlotte (9-0)
The Pirates have turned their program around, but a trip to Punta Gorda to face an undefeated Tarpons group is not going to be easy. Quarterback Osby Green and running back David Dawson are the main pieces for the Boca Ciega offense. For Charlotte, it has Maleek Williams, a running back with 21 touchdowns on the ground.
Prediction: Charlotte 38, Boca Ciega 27
Gibbs (2-6) at Jesuit (9-0)
These two teams met in the spring when Jesuit won soundly 28-6. The Tigers are undefeated and focused on the task ahead, a state title while Gibbs snuck into the postseason with wins over Dunedin and Tarpon Springs. Malk Davis, Danny Boon and Travell Harris will be flying around all night in this one for Jesuit. Quandale Inmon is the x-factor for the Gladiators offense.
Prediction: Jesuit 43, Gibbs 17
Jefferson (6-3) at Lakewood (5-4)
This a 5A region quarterfinal matchup between two red-hot Tampa teams. Both Jefferson and Lakewood finished the season winning of five of its last six games. The Spartans have been improved, but the Dragons led by quarterback Cade Weldon are more seasoned and poised for this big game.
Prediction: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 20
Zephyrhills (8-2) at Nature Coast (9-0)
The Bulldogs have junior quarterback Charles Harrison III (26 total touchdowns) and sophomore wideout Tre’Pavis Mobley (13 total touchdowns), but it has hard to see that being enough against an undefeated Sharks group. Nature Coast has a three-headed backfield with TJ Owens (18 touchdowns), Michael Weston (13 touchdowns) and Brian Haygood (nine scores).
Prediction: Nature Coast 28, Zephyrhills 17
Ocala Trinity Catholic (4-4) at Tampa Catholic (5-3)
I fully expect Tampa Catholic to be able to control the Celtics in this 3A region semifinal. The Crusaders handled Ocala Trinity Catholic 35-6 in the region final a year ago. Running Devan Barrett and quarterback Austin Sessums will simply be too much behind its powerful offensive line.
Prediction: Tampa Catholic 30, Ocala Trinity Catholic 17
Berkeley Prep (7-2) at Orlando First Academy (9-0)
Senior running back Gordon Stetson has done everything he possibly can as an undersized back for the Buccaneers. This will be his biggest task against an undefeated Royals group that has allowed only 70 points all season. Bucs quarterback Davis Koetter has to play sound football to keep First Academy’s offense off the field.
Prediction: Berkeley Prep 27, First Academy 17
Fort Pierce John Carroll Catholic (5-5) at Clearwater Central Catholic (8-1)
The Rams come to Clearwater in this region semifinal. John Carroll Catholic has done a fine job this season at staying competitive, but they won’t be able to slow down CCC’s offensive attack led by quarterback Jakob Parks, running backs CJ Cotman, Jervon Newton, Ra’Shaad Stewart and wide receiver Amari Burney.
Seffner Christian (7-3) at Northside Christian (8-2)
A 2A region semifinal is set for Friday night at Northside Christian. The Mustangs have quarterback Griffin Alstott and highly talented wideout Demetrius Jackson leading the way. Seffner Christian has senior backs Tyrell Carter and Jacob McLaughlin (28 combined touchdowns). I think Northside Christian squeaks a victory out.
Prediction: Northside Christian 27, Seffner Christian 23
Admiral Farragut (3-4) at Cambridge Christian (8-0)
We can go on and on about Cambridge Christian’s weapons which include running back Andrew Cunningham and quarterback Jaylin Jackson. Admiral Farragut will try to play the role of the spoiler in this 2A region semifinal much like they tried to do in the region final last year against the Lancers. Blue Jackets quarterback Keondrae Miller has to have the game of his life.
Prediction: Cambridge Christian 37, Admiral Farragut
2016 season prediction record: 34-5
What games will you be watching? Comment below with any predictions or thoughts.
Jake Perper is the scout for Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.