By STEVE JACKSON
Sumner High and Riverview High have a re-match date this Friday to open the 2023 football high school playoffs. East Bay High also plays again in the first round of the state playoffs, taking a trip to challenge Largo High on Nov. 10.
The regular football season concluded last week with three South Shore squads extending their current season at least one more week. The 9-1 Sumner Stingrays trounced the 7-3 Riverview Sharks 40-7 in the regular season. Now the South Shore rivals meet again in Sumner to decide who goes home as the loser and who continues playing football with at least one more week of playoff football, Nov. 17. Clashing for the first time this season are Coach Mike Gottman’s 8-2 East Bay Indians, traveling to take on the 8-2 Largo High team.
Lennard High was whipped 49-14 last week by the powerful 9-1 Armwood Hawks to end the first season of head coaching at Lennard for Coach KB Belton. Coach Belton is already looking forward to the 2024 season with a returning starting quarterback, running backs and key linemen. In the new coach’s first season at 3-7 Lennard, the team won three games compared to winning only one last year.
Also packing it up to end a losing-record football season were the Spoto Spartans. Under Coach Keith Chattin, Spoto concluded the campaign on a winning note, blasting 0-10 hapless Freedom 47-0 last week. Spoto finished 2-8 and returns its quarterback, a top running back, an electrifying receiver/returner, an outstanding wide receiver and loads of optimism for a better season record-wise in 2024.
In the shutout romp over Freedom last Friday, Spoto jumped out to a 21-0 lead after one quarter. Spartan junior running back Cam White found the end zone five times, racking up 122 yards rushing on 12 attempts. Other top Spoto offensive performances included soph QB Nathan Richardson rushing four times for 56 yards and hitting 12 of 16 passes for 285 yards and a pair of scoring passes. Both scoring aerials were reeled in by soph Jesse Harden as part of Harden’s six catches for 162 yards, the longest a 64 yard chunk. Spoto junior speedster Z’orey Cotton pulled in four passes for 91 yards and added 29 yards on two rushes. With all that super talent returning next year, Coach Chattin will be working on the line on both sides of the ball in an effort to get Spoto to the playoffs next season.
Lennard also was improved and fell a little short this season but anticipates a large dose of returning offensive firepower next year. Coach Belton will be looking to sophomore quarterback Jacob Mobley who had a successful baptism of fire this season. The Longhorns could not stand up to the passing pace of Armwood in the 49-14 rout last Friday. The Hawks QB, soph Rhys Brush, had a perfect 13 for 13 night passing for six touchdowns versus Lennard. Armwood’s top rusher, junior Girard Pringle, carried 12 times for a score and 153 yards. The Hawks are the top seed in 3M District 4 and start the playoffs with 6-4 Wharton High. Armwood has tallied 430 points on the season and yielded only 138. Its only loss was in September, 28-21 against Jesuit High of Tampa.
Armwood started fast in Seffner last week, bolting out to a two TD lead in the second quarter and overpowering Lennard in the second half.
Coach Belton said after the defeat, “ We showed up and gained some respect, that we won’t lay down for anyone.
“Big or small, we come to play week in and week out,” added Coach Belton.
After Armwood hit with a scoring pass and a 30-yard TD run, Horns’ young QB Mobley showed some stuff. The soph hit senior Ryan Dunn on a 70-yard TD pass. Not to be outdone, Armwood QB Brush connected on another TD pass to push it to 28-7. Mobley answered again in the first half with a 25-yard TD throw to senior Braylon Smith to give life to Lennard at 28-14 at the half. Armwood came out of the half abandoning the run and took advantage of the young, inexperienced Lennard defensive secondary. The Hawks hit for three more third quarter scores to control the game and send the disappointed, overwhelmed Horns back to Ruskin from Seffner.
East Bay marks its second straight playoff assignment, hoping to grab a victory this season instead of being bounced home again.
The Indians turned to their strength—-a rushing offense and a crushing defense—to take care of 3-6 King High in Tampa 42-0.
East Bay’s outstanding senior running back, as usual, set the offensive tone for the Indians. Jaelin Sneed scored three times with 124 yards on 14 totes and a chunk run of 26 yards. Other top rushers for the Indians included senior Isaiah Ketchup, making a score and 67 yards on five attempts; junior Reginald Mack, piling up 54 yards on six carries; junior Anthony Laurent, grounding out 51 yards on six totes; senior Jose Hernandez, getting 43 yards on four carries; senior Edward Moquette picking up 19 yards on three attempts; junior William Boyd, picking up 8 yards on three tries; junior Zarius Lemons, banging out 7 yards on three carries; and senior Miles Thompson adding 3 yards on one carry. Laurent also snared two Mack passes for 29 yards in the air. Senior place kicker Kaydien Saul had a career night for the Indians. Saul hit three of three field goals, the longest for 38 yards, and booted three of three PATs. Total rush yards for EB added up to 376 yards.
The Indians will also count on a team approach to defense. Many of the stalwarts on the EB defense also play a good deal on offense. When the opponent has the ball, Indians ready for action include seniors Emanuel White, Landon Hernandez and Miles Thompson. A pair of Indian juniors always prepped for defense are Justin Cornish and Dravyn Oblak.
The Riverview Sharks won their first six games in a row this season, but Head Coach Tony Rodriquez’ Sharks have lost three out of four down the stretch. The first loss of the season was 40-7 to powerhouse Sumner. Then, after a convincing 35-17 win over Strawberry Crest, the Sharks have lost two more in a row, 36-22 to Durant and last week a 41-36 upset to 4-6 Steinbrenner. Now, Riverview is seeded eighth or last in 4M District 8, which means a rematch at the heavily favored Sumner Stingrays in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 10.
Riverview suffered the defeat to Steinbrenner in Riverview on Senior Night. It will take some doing by the Sharks on both offense and defense to topple Sumner and keep the playoff post-season alive for the struggling but capable Sharks. Last week, Riverview got plenty of offense but could not complement it with sufficient defense to pull out a needed victory. The Sharks are fortunate to receive a playoff bid, but taking on Sumner it is a challenge to crack.
In the regular season loss to Steinbrenner, Riverview received another great performance from senior running back Rico Shoats. The powerful running back took the ball 23 times for 178 yards versus Steinbrenner and tallied one touchdown with his longest run, 21 yards. Shoats had plenty of support from junior runner Stephane Norceide, who scored two TDs with seven rushes for 64 yards. Junior Sharks runner Isaiah Washington also compiled some top notch offensive stats.
Washington scored twice, once on a rush and once on 59 receiving yards. Riverview senior QB Aaron Turner had a decent night with the ball as well. Turner hit nine of 15 passes for 132 yards and a TD but did suffer two interceptions. The Sharks should be ready for the onslaught of Sumner offense with defensive stalwarts such as Randall Guzman, a junior with eight tackles against Steinbrenner. Other Sharks relied on defensively versus Steinbrenner included Darreyn Belcher, senior Landon Johnston, junior Norceide, soph Javan Gadson, seniors Chris Feliciano, Adrian Zalduondo and Xavier Rivers. They will have to be ready for Sumner if the Sharks are to continue their season in the state playoffs and not go home with a final 7-4 worksheet.