Pinellas Football Previews: East Lake heads to Tallahassee

Safety Jake Walsh and the East Lake secondary may have a big impact on Friday night’s game in Tallahassee against Rickards High.

East Lake’s done its fair share of regular-season traveling in recent years and the Eagles hit the road again Friday night.

The program headed to Lakeland and Ware County (Ga.) last year, Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley in 2016 and Hollywood International School of Broward in 2015. 

Next up: Class 5A Tallahassee Rickards.o

East Lake (3-3) at Tallahassee Rickards (1-4)

The Eagles needed a last-second field goal and three overtime periods, but it was well worth the extra effort last week.

East Lake picked up an important 23-20 win over rival Countryside. The win not only evened its overall Class 7A District 10 record at 1-1, but ended a rough two-game losing skid. The Eagles surrendered 40-plus points in back-to-back losses to Pinellas Park and Lakeland, so beating Countryside was a necessity at this point.

Rickards is a Class 5A team that qualified for the playoffs last year. The Raiders did so with a mediocre 5-4 record and sit at 1-4 entering Friday night.

Rickards doesn’t have statistics completely updated on, but one stat that jumps out is at least nine interceptions thrown by its two quarterbacks. East Lake defensive backs like Micah Abraham, Ryan Cunningham and Jake Walsh may be able to impact Friday night’s game in a big way.

Osceola (1-4) at Tarpon Springs (2-4)

Tarpon Springs and Osceola have played every year since 2011, with the Spongers holding a 4-3 edge.

That record includes last year’s 35-8 victory and Tarpon Springs should be able to win its third in a row in the series.

The Spongers could use a positive, bounce-back performance after last week’s tough 20-7 road loss at District 5A-9 foe Gibbs. While the defeat may have sunk Tarpon Springs’ longshot district title aspirations, last year proved that the playoffs aren’t out of the question. The Spongers would have qualified as district runners-up in the FHSAA’s traditional format and they still made it with the new point system.

Time’s running out to pick up wins and rack up points, however, and Tarpon Springs may need to run the table. That would include a season-ending win over district frontrunner Lakewood.

Bradenton Manatee (4-2, 3-0) at Palm Harbor University (2-3, 1-1)

Last week was rough for PHU and it doesn’t get much easier Friday with Bradenton Manatee coming to town.

The Hurricanes opened District 8A-6 play with a 41-25 victory over Riverview. The followed that 16-point win with a 38-point defeat at defending district champion Sarasota Riverview.

Manatee isn’t quite the powerhouse they’ve been in the past, but they’re still one of two favorites to win the district. That other favorite is Sarasota Riverview, the team that beat Manatee two years in a row.

Manatee gets its battle against the Rams next week and it’s not a stretch to think some players may be looking past PHU. Pulling off the upset would be a massive accomplishment, but there might be some quality moments to be had if Manatee isn’t fully focused.

The Hurricanes struggled to move the ball against Sarasota Riverview. What they did exceptionally well, though, was return kicks. That special teams unit recorded both PHU touchdowns last week – Aaron Baxter’s 45-yard return and Gunner Wilson’s 50-yarder.

Countryside (3-2) at Dunedin (0-5)

After racing out to a 3-0 start to the season, Countryside’s stumbled with two straight losses.

Last week’s triple-overtime loss at East Lake will probably linger throughout the rest of the year, but the Cougars will look to get back on track at Dunedin.

The Falcons are still in the midst of their rebuild and are making progress, but Countryside’s still a program they can’t match up against. Dunedin’s losing streak reached 38 games last week against Lakewood. The team’s playing hard, though, and giving Coach Mitch Disney solid effort. Last year’s team scored six points in Week 1 and never scored again. The Falcons were shut out Week 1 this year but have gotten on the board in each of the last four games.

Friday night should allow Countryside to get back on track before next week’s district home showdown against St. Petersburg. The Cougars will need three straight wins over St. Pete, Seminole and Pinellas Park to have a shot at the district championship.