Due to an FHSAA rule change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all high school football teams that opted in to the state series will get a regional play-in game. That means all three Plant City-area teams get to start postseason football this week.
Welcome to the wild-card round of the 2020 high school football season, brought to you by COVID-19.
In case you need to refresh your memory, the FHSAA Board of Directors voted back in August to redraw almost all classes and give everyone who opted into the FHSAA State Series a regional play-in game. These matchups were determined a few weeks ago by blind draw for seeding and home field advantage determined by coin flip.
All three Plant City-area teams opted in, so all three are getting ready for the postseason now. Two will play win-and-in games this Friday night. Here’s a look at what went down last week for both our local teams and their upcoming opponents.
vs. winner of Bartow/Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20
Though the stats for Durant’s game at Wharton weren’t available at press time, the good news for Cougar fans is that game ended with a 20-9 DHS win.
Durant handed the Wildcats their first and only loss of the 2020 regular season, though Wharton may get some consolation knowing the FHSAA blind draw set up a Friday game against a 1-7 Riverview team that’s given up at least 40 points in six of its eight games (including last week’s 75-14 loss to Tampa Bay Tech). It was a great way for Durant to bounce back from the previous week’s 35-7 loss in the Battle for the Redman Cup with Plant City.
The Cougars are the only team that won’t have to worry about playing in an elimination game this week. They were scheduled to face Leto on Friday night, but the Falcons’ 2020 season came to an end not long after picking up their only win of the season against Robinson last week. Due to a positive test for a Robinson player after that game, the Falcons had to quarantine a large part of the roster and forfeit this week’s play-in game.
That means Durant has automatically advanced to the regional quarterfinals on Nov. 20 and will host the winner of this week’s Bartow-Tampa Bay Tech game.
Fans of those teams should be in for a fun one — both offenses have been extremely productive in 2020. The Yellow Jackets are now 8-0 after last week’s 42-10 win over Lake Wales (3-1) and have averaged 45 points per game, though that game was their only win over an opponent at or above a .500 win percentage. Tampa Bay Tech is coming off of a 75-14 win over Riverview and has scored no fewer than 42 points in each of its last five games (four wins and one loss to Plant City). Since the Titans have been battle-tested against solid teams like Armwood (a 48-47 win), Bloomingdale (a 25-22 loss) and Gaither (a 34-14 loss), they appear more likely to be the Cougars’ next opponent. No matter who Durant draws next week, having this unexpected bye week will help.
vs. Bloomingdale, 7:30 p.m.
No team in the area has it tougher than Plant City, which drew a rematch with the undefeated Bloomingdale Bulls for Friday.
The last time these two teams met (on Oct. 2, also at 1 Raider Place), the Bulls picked up a 37-20 win in which the Raiders hung within a touchdown and a field goal for much of the game. Bloomingdale’s defense pitching a fourth-quarter shutout ended up sealing the deal that night, but Plant City can say it was the last opponent to give the Bulls a tough test (which is impressive considering Lakeland loomed on the horizon just a few weeks later, only to get blown out at home Oct. 23).
Last week, Bloomingdale almost completely contained Newsome’s run-heavy offense and got a 38-10 win to finish the regular season unblemished. The Bulls held a 24-3 lead at halftime and also forced the Wolves into fumbling seven times (four of which were recovered by Bloomingdale).
Meanwhile, at Hillsborough High School, Plant City took a 32-14 loss to the Terriers. There were some efficient stat lines put up by the Raiders. Quarterback Nick Felice completed 13 of 19 pass attempts for 192 of the team’s 216 total passing yards, Mario Williams and Reagan Ealy caught 11 balls for 173 total yards and lead running back Romello Jones picked up 70 yards and both touchdowns on 17 carries. But the Terriers outmuscled the Raiders on both sides of the ball to get their sixth consecutive win and finish with a 6-1 regular-season record.
Despite that loss, Raider fans have every reason to believe Plant City can pick up the pace against the Bulls. These teams have played each other close in both meetings since 2019, even if that 37-20 final score earlier this season doesn’t look like it. Last year’s matchup, a 37-34 Bulls win decided in overtime, was an instant classic. Plant City should come into this game motivated to break the two-game losing streak to Bloomingdale, but the Bulls look better than ever. Buckle up for this one.
vs. George Jenkins, 7:30 p.m.
Last, but not least, we’ve come to an important moment in Strawberry Crest program history: its first-ever postseason game.
The 2013 Chargers came very close to making the cut in that season’s three-way tiebreaker but ultimately fell short of the goal. This may not have been a playoff spot-clinching season in the traditional sense, but Charger fans should still take it for what it is.
And in even better news, Crest is heading into this one with a win. Last week, the Chargers’ hard work and patience paid off to the tune of a 36-33 win over Freedom at home in which Jesse Waldrop (104 yards, three touchdowns) and Ryan Weems (86 yards, one touchdown) ran all over the Patriots’ defense. The Crest defense, despite giving up 228 yards and five touchdowns to running back Robby Washington, shut down Freedom’s passing game and made big stops when they were sorely needed to finally end the losing streak. The Chargers’ 36-point performance was not only their season-high total, but was also more than they had scored throughout the rest of the 2020 season (27 total points) as well as the second-highest total in seven years (behind only the 2013 team’s 52-12 season-opening win at Middleton).
They’ll host a 2-8 George Jenkins team on Friday with the hopes of handing the Eagles their fourth consecutive loss. Last week, Jenkins went to Davenport-Ridge and took a 30-13 loss brought on mostly by the legs of Beau Herrington, who torched Jenkins with 288 yards and three scores on 28 touches.
Jenkins has struggled against run-heavy offenses of late, which bodes well for the Chargers. The Eagles gave up 229 yards and three touchdowns on 16 total touches in their 49-10 loss to Tampa Catholic (in which the Crusaders attempted just nine passes and completed seven), and they gave up 255 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries for eight Winter Haven players in a 46-0 shutout loss to the Blue Devils. Crest has tended to spread out its touches more like Winter Haven did in that game, though it’s a good sign that Weems and Waldrop got hot last week and playing that hand again to lead the offense might result in both big numbers and a big win.
Keep in mind that if you can’t go to the games, you can watch them live on NFHSNetwork.com.