Pinellas playoff hopefuls thinning out

Clearwater coach Don Mesick speaks to his team after the Tornadoes’ 27-20 season-ending loss at Gaither in the Class 6A region semifinals.

And then there were three.

Pinellas County’s postseason football qualifiers went from six to three after last week’s challenging slate of region semifinal games. Admiral Farragut, Clearwater Central Catholic and Lakewood picked up victories while the efforts of Clearwater, Largo and Northside Christian fell short.

Clearwater came close to making school history by winning a second-round game for the first time, but the Tornadoes trip to Gaither ended with a 27-20 loss. Clearwater scored first and led 20-13 early in the fourth quarter. Gaither quarterback Tony Bartalo’s nearly 400-yard passing performance was the difference maker and the Cowboys moved on to face Lake Minneola. The latter was responsible for beating another Pinellas contender, Largo, 33-13.

Class 4A: No. 3 Tampa Catholic (7-5) at No. 1 Lakewood (11-0)

Unbeaten Lakewood kept rolling last week with a 35-0 thrashing of Clewiston. The Spartans have now blanked seven of their 11 opponents and Tampa Catholic is up next.

Lakewood’s only given up 67 points all season while averaging 38 on offense. That’s a pretty good recipe for success and another win would put the Spartans in the state final four for the second time in program history. Lakewood is in its eighth straight postseason and the other final four trip came in 2013.

Tampa Catholic qualified for the playoffs after finishing the regular season 5-5. That number is deceptive considering all five of the Crusaders’ losses came against playoff qualifiers. Tampa Catholic advanced to the region final by beating Englewood Lemon Bay 35-6 and Delray Beach American Heritage 33-16.

Though Lakewood’s offense gets overshadowed by its dominating unit on the other side of the ball, dual-threat quarterback Greg Spann II and the Spartans can score in bunches. In fact, the only time they’ve been held under 30 points this season was during a 21-20 overtime win at Madison County, last year’s Class 1A state champion that owned the best Ratings Percentage Index in its classification this year.

Awaiting Friday’s winner will be either Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons (10-2) or Miami Booker T. Washington (10-2).

Class 3A: No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic (9-3) at No. 2 Fort Myers Bishop Verot (9-2)

Pinellas County’s most successful program in recent years is back at it.

CCC avenged its season-opening loss at Berkeley Prep last week by crossing the bridge again into Tampa and beating the Buccaneers 34-28. Senior running back Jordan Niles turned in his 11th 100-yard game of the season, rushing 23 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

The Marauders will lean on Niles again Friday night when they head to Fort Myers. The Vikings surrender about 10 points a night but CCC will bring an offense that’s averaged about 40 points the past five games.

Returning from Fort Myers with a win will put CCC in the state semifinals for a third straight season and the seventh time in the last eight years. The Marauders lone trip to the state finals came in 2013.

If CCC reaches another state final four, the Marauders will face either Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian Academy (10-1) or Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna (9-2). Chaminade-Madonna is the defending back-to-back Class 3A state champion as well as the team that’s beaten CCC two straight years in the state semis.

Class 2A: No. 4 Admiral Farragut (8-3) at No. 3 Seffner Christian (9-3)

The county’s other 2018 state semifinalist, Admiral Farragut, is also on the cusp of returning.

Last year the Blue Jackets beat Cambridge Christian in the region semifinals and Seffner Christian in the region finals. This year the Blue Jackets beat Cambridge Christian in the region semifinals and now face Seffner Christian Friday in the region finals.

Farragut opened the Class 2A bracket with a 52-10 win over Keswick Christian before coming back to beat Cambridge Christian last week 24-13.

After losing its first three games Seffner Christian has won eight straight, including a pair of playoffs games by a combined score of 84-27.

Last year was Farragut’s second state final four appearance. The first came in 2011 when the Blue Jackets reached the championship game and finished as Class 2A state runners-up.

The teams waiting for the Farragut-Seffner winner are Hialeah Champagnat Catholic (7-4) and Moore Haven (7-5). Farragut lost to Champagnat in last year’s state semifinals.