One of the toughest tests the Plant City Raiders will face in 2016 comes on the first night of the regular season.
Although the Raiders will say they’re looking forward to the Friday, Aug. 26, game against Armwood, the general attitude of the program is that it’s just one out of 10 games on the regular-season schedule — one more early test to see what the Raiders are capable of.
“It’s a gauge to where we’re at right now,” head coach Robert Paxia says. “They’re big, physical and athletic. We’re big, physical and athletic too. It’s just going to be a gauge to see our level of execution.”
If the preseason game last week against Riverview was also a gauge, then Plant City passed with flying colors. The Raiders recorded a 37-0 shutout win at the home of the Sharks, which started with Tydre Ward taking the opening kickoff of the game home for six points. Paxia liked that the offense, which scored 14 points in last year’s preseason game, picked up the pace this time.
“For the most part, we executed well on special teams, we executed well on offense, we did some good things on defense as well,” Paxia says. “For the most part, we played a pretty solid game. There’s definitely some places were we can get a lot better at but, you know, we’re happy with our first effort.”
He was particularly pleased with Ward’s effort, praising the senior for also returning a punt for what would have been a touchdown, if not for a flag.
Paxia’s first game as a high school head coach couldn’t have gone much better.
“It was exciting but, at the same time, I’m just trying to treat it like everything else,” he says. “It’s just one more game.”
Last week, Armwood traveled to Bradenton to take on a similarly tough Manatee team and, much to the surprise of many, left on the wrong end of a 28-19 score.
The Hawks did have a 13-0 lead at one point, thanks to strong play from quarterback Devin Black — formerly of the Lennard Longhorns — who went 21-for-35 with 220 yards, one passing and one rushing touchdown.
But they also had trouble staying in the refs’ favor. Armwood took 14 penalties for a loss of 117 yards, which intensified the problems it had with bad snaps.
On one hand, it looks like a true heavyweight looking bad in a rare loss. On the other hand, it’s the story of one pigskin power losing to another vaunted program, several levels above the average Tampa Bay high school squad.
Whether Armwood is on some kind of decline or not is impossible to tell this early in the year, but to Paxia and the team, Armwood is still at the top of the food chain. The Raiders are preparing for a fight, but they don’t lack self-confidence.
“To be the dog, you’ve got to beat the dog, so we’re excited about that opportunity,” Paxia says.
Contact Justin Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE OTHER GUYS
When: 7 p.m.
Where: 5000 N. Central Ave., Tampa
After a slow start to their preseason game, the Cougars turned on the jets in the second half of their Friday, Aug. 19, game and picked up a 24-6 win over the Brandon Eagles.
Peyton Ledbetter’s field goal, which put Durant ahead, 3-0, was the only scoring play of the first half. The second half saw wideout Brandon Myers break out a 92-yard touchdown run, defensive end Adrien Kirkland scoring a pick six from Durant’s own goal line and Jake Harris icing the cake with a rushing score in the fourth quarter.
This week, the Cougars get the Hillsborough High team it upset at home in last year’s season opener.
The Terriers cruised to a 41-0 preseason win over East Bay, where they committed no turnovers and held the Indians to 127 total yards. Durant will likely be seen as the underdog in the matchup, as was the case last season, but the players are confident in their odds.
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: 1101 Victoria St., Brandon
The Chargers couldn’t get anything going Friday, Aug. 19, against the Jesuit Tigers, one of the top teams in the Tampa Bay area. Crest took a 45-0 home loss.
Jesuit scored on its first four drives, with three touchdowns coming from star running back Malik Davis. Davis gained 100 yards on just seven touches and sat the rest of the game out.
This week, Crest gets to face a Brandon team looking for answers at quarterback after neither Harry Kanu nor Barry Wyche were able to do much against Durant’s defense. The Chargers are hoping to leave Brandon with a win, but the Eagles will likely look to exploit any weaknesses Davis revealed in the team’s run defense.