By STEVE JACKSON
All four South Shore football teams head to the win-or-go-home state playoffs as underdogs after posting losses in their regular season-ending games.
Lennard has a first-round bye after falling last week 9-7 to Middleton. The 4-4 Longhorns open the playoffs on Nov. 20 at either the Riverview Rams of Sarasota or Plant of Tampa. The 7-1 Rams are heavily favored to advance over Plant on Nov. 13.
Coach Frank LaRosa’s East Bay Indians were defeated 56-14 by the Chamberlain Chiefs last week. The 2-6 Indians hope to bounce back in a first round playoff matchup Nov. 13 with 5-2 Pinellas Park at Largo. Last week, East Bay fell behind early, trailing 28-0 after the first quarter. Despite some offensive flashes sparked by Indians QB Nick Carter, receivers Vincent Ketchup, James Thompson and Raymer Smith; and running back Malachi Drayton, East Bay proved to be a defensive sieve. This Friday, the boys from Big Bend Road travel to metro Tampa again. Pinellas Park High has scored 193 points in seven games and yielded only 82. At the same time, in eight games East Bay has struggled to tally 147 points and given up a whopping 271. Therefore, Coach LaRosa’s charges carry the underdog tag into what could be the Indians last game of this season.
Another prohibitive underdog in the playoffs from South Shore is Coach William Mosel’s Riverview Sharks. Riverview was soundly defeated by 5-3 Tampa Bay Tech and its stellar QB David Wright last Friday, 75-14. The toothless Sharks have not shown much of a victory bite this season. Riverview’s lone win came over everybody’s whipping boy, 0-8 Haines City. Now, 1-7 Riverview has one more shot. The Sharks travel to Tampa Friday seeking a second win as they face 6-1 Wharton Wildcats. The largest discrepancy between the teams, statistically, is in the category of points scored and points given up this season. Offensively, both are fairly equal. Riverview has scored 169 points in eight games to Wharton’s 153 in seven games. But the stats are widely divergent on defense. Riverview has yielded 341 points while Wharton has coughed up a measly 43.
Since 7-1 Sumner High was excluded from this season’s playoffs, that leaves only 3-5 Spoto as a last-gasp hopeful entry in post-season play. But the Spartans, similar to other South Shore teams, look to lose, at least on paper. Coach Alfred Smith’s squad goes up against 8-1 Lake Gibson High in Lakeland on Nov. 13. Spoto’s worksheet fell to 3-5 in a 16-12 loss to King on Oct. 30. The Spartans scored only 65 points on the season while giving up 183. On the other hand, Lake Gibson in nine games has rolled up an amazing 429 points and only yielded 62.
Last Friday was a night of blown opportunities for Lennard against Middleton in Tampa. The Longhorns running game went south, as in nowhere. QB Gavin Henley’s passing put up some good numbers statistically, including setting up the Horns lone TD. But a consistent game on the ground was basically non-existent. Offensive penalties, missed or blocked field goals, a failed onside kick and a non-answered Hail Mary added up to the disappointing 9-7 defeat.
Early on against the Tigers, Longhorns Jahki Davis and Darius Frazier exhibited their ball-hawking skills with fumble recoveries. But these efforts resulted in a missed field goal and a blocked field goal. Lennard moved the chains with Henley tosses to Ha’keem Monroe and Elijah Singleton. But the Tigers held on a 4th down inside the red zone. Lennard forced a Middleton punt but could not generate much offense. A blocked punt by the Tigers set up a short field for Middleton, which took advantage. The Tigers QB Marlon Singletary scampered 15 yards for Middleton’s only TD. A missed PAT made it 6-0 at the half. The second half opened with more of the same. Lennard moved the ball through the air between the 20s, but a fumble turned the pigskin over to Middleton toward the end of the 3rd quarter. The Tigers cashed in, driving down into Longhorn territory. The eventual winning points came from a long 42-yard Tiger field goal to make it 9-0 at the end of three quarters.
Lennard continued to drive offensively through the air with throws from Henley to Davis, Singleton and Monroe. Henley then scrambled and hit Davis with an apparent 35-yard TD but an offensive holding penalty negated the score. Lennard was forced to punt again afer the negative walk-off.
The Longhorns continued to play tough defensively and got the ball back. Lennard’s offense generated more aerial yards and returned to that unfulfilled red zone again. This time a 27-yard field goal attempt was tipped at the line.
Trailing 9-0 in the 4th quarter, Lennard finally found the elusive paydirt. Henley lasered a slant pass to co-captain Dax Corr down to the the 1-yard line. Henley scrambled and sprinted in for the last yard to put the Longhorns on the scoreboard. Anthony Loschiavos’ PAT was good, making it 9-7.
In the waning desperate moments, Lennard attempted an almost successful onsides kick, which was snagged by the Tigers. Lennard forced another Middelton punt and was rewarded with one more offensive shot. With only a few ticks remaining, Henley went to the Hail Mary heave. All the Horns got was a lot of tipping but an incomplete pass and a defeat.
A strong Lennard defense was led all night by Frazier with seven tackles, including two for losses, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Another defensive stalwart was Braylon Henry with seven and one-half tackles.
Now, Coach Khris Ramsey’s Longhorns wait to go on the road for the winner of the first round playoff game of Riverview Rams vs. Plant. This figures to be the 7-1 Rams of Sarasota who beat Lennard 49-26 earlier this season and 41-29 last season.