PINELLAS FOOTBALL: Critical week for East Lake football

The Clearwater defense stepped up when needed most during last week’s comeback win at Pinellas Park. The Tornadoes shut out the Patriots in the second half after trailing 24-0 at halftime, winning 38-24.

It was a big week for high school football programs around the state.

The season’s first Ratings Percentage Index figures were released Tuesday by the Florida High School Athletic Association and will be posted online every Tuesday until the end of the regular season on Nov. 1. The rankings, which utilize a team’s winning percentage as well as its opponents’ winning percentages and its opponents’ opponents winning percentages, determine playoff qualification and regional seeding.

A couple North Pinellas programs have some work to do if they plan on playing beyond Week 11. Wins Friday night may not be 100-percent necessary, but they certainly wouldn’t hurt the cause.

East Lake (3-3, 1-1) at Sickles (5-2, 2-0)

East Lake is a fringe at-large playoff team, but the Eagles are still very much in the running to win the Class 7A District 9 championship. Friday at Sickles is a must-win for that to happen, however.

East Lake’s already lost one league game, two weeks ago at Mitchell, and Sickles is tied at the top at 2-0 with Pinellas Park. For the Eagles to win their first district title since 2016, they’ll need to beat Sickles on Friday and Pinellas Park on Oct. 25 and see how everything shakes out. There’s a good chance this league’s champ will be determined by tiebreakers.

As for Friday night, East Lake will be getting a Sickles team coming off an unimpressive 7-6 loss at East Bay. The Gryphons are 5-2 overall, but the only team they’ve played with a winning record – undefeated Steinbrenner – beat them 41-21.

A couple turnovers doomed East Lake the last time they took the field at Mitchell. The Eagles possess a talent edge over Sickles and don’t have to be perfect to win Friday. Giving the run-heavy Gryphons offense too many short fields to work with, however, could make things much tougher than they need to be.

Plant (0-6, 0-1) at Palm Harbor University (4-3, 2-0)

This one’s just strange looking.

Plant High, one of the premier programs in the Tampa Bay area and entire state, comes to Palm Harbor University with an 0-6 record. PHU enters 4-3 and 2-0 in District 8A-7 play.

Be careful getting hyped up about the biggest win in Hurricanes history, though. Yes, the Panthers are reeling and not their usual, ferocious selves. They’ve also played the most difficult schedule in the entire region. Maybe the entire state. The combined record of Plant’s six opponents is 33-3, including three unbeatens and MaxPreps.com’s No. 9 team in the country, Gonzaga (D.C.) High.

PHU shut out its second straight opponent last week by blanking Osceola 14-0. The Hurricanes’ defense has helped allow the team to compete as the offense finds its footing. Both sides of the ball will be tested Friday against a Plant team looking to take out some frustration.

Tarpon Springs (0-6, 0-2) at Gulf (0-6, 0-2)

Let’s just focus on the good here. Barring something weird going down, someone’s celebrating a win Friday night.

Gulf and Tarpon Springs are deep into rebuilds and haven’t been able to compete against any of their previous opponents this season. Friday creates a level playing field and an opportunity to execute. Looking at both teams’ remaining schedules, this will be the lone chance to celebrate victory.

Dunedin (4-1) at Cypress Creek (3-3)

One of this week’s most interesting games might be this one in Wesley Chapel.

Cypress Creek is in just its third year of existence, but the Coyotes are already playing competitive, winning football. Dunedin’s in the middle of its corner-turning season after losing 43 straight.

Both teams can match up against lower-level opposition but aren’t quite ready to take on deeper, better competition. Friday night will allow both coaching staffs to see what stage of development they’re at right now.

Dunedin’s coming of a 68-28 loss at Northeast and is looking for win No. 5. That would guarantee a .500 season and get the Falcons one step closer to a team goal of a winning record with three games left.

Similar to Dunedin, Cypress Creek likes to mix up its offense and is led by dual-threat quarterback Jehlani Warren and running back Jovanni Addison.

Clearwater (4-2, 0-1) at Countryside (3-3, 1-1)

The Battle of Clearwater picks back up Friday night at Countryside High.

The host Cougars put an end to the Tornadoes’ two-game winning streak in the series with a 23-20 victory at Clearwater last year.

This year, the rivals are back to sharing a district as well. While Largo has the District 6A-7 title all but wrapped up, at-large playoff berths still remain up for grabs. Clearwater has a much better shot at securing one of those four regional at-large spots, but a loss at C-Side would damage those odds severely.

The Tornadoes are coming off a massive come-from-behind victory at Pinellas Park that ended a two-game skid. Clearwater scored 38 unanswered points in the second half after trailing 24-0 at the break to beat the Patriots and jump start the season’s second half.

Countryside’s struggled against better competition this year and will have to show some significant improvements on both sides of the ball to win its second straight in the series.