Playoff Football: Tough year for North Pinellas

Lakewood High and quarterback Deuce Spann host Sarasota Booker for a Class 5A Region 3 quarterfinal matchup Friday.

Class 7A: No. 7 Palmetto (7-3) at No. 2 Pinellas Park (10-0)

This is a region quarterfinal rematch from last year and undefeated Pinellas Park is hoping the pairing is the only similarity.

Palmetto came to Pinellas Park as the No. 6 seed last year and beat the No. 3 Patriots, 28-24.

Pinellas Park completed its first 10-0 regular season in school history by outscoring opponents by an average score of 47-9. Powering the Patriots’ potent offense is a ground attack that averages 314.5 yards per game.

Juniors Lawrence Toafili (1,329 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Derek Bryant (979 yards 11 touchdowns) are the top rushing tandem in Pinellas County and they’ll need to keep rolling Friday night to make sure Palmetto doesn’t pull off another upset.

The Tigers also average more than 40 points a night and are led by senior quarterback Anthony Marino. Despite the lower ranking, Palmetto played a challenging schedule that included wins over Sarasota Riverview and Punta Gorda Charlotte and single-digit losses to Braden River and Bradenton Manatee – all playoff teams.

A victory would give the Patriots their third-ever in program history and first since 2013. No Pinellas Park team has ever won more than one game in a single postseason.

Class 6A: No. 6 N. Fort Myers (7-3) at No. 3 Largo (7-2)

Despite losing its final regular-season game last week, Largo held on to defend its Class 6A District 9 championship over Clearwater. The Packers’ point average of 39.10 was 0.3 better than the Tornadoes’ 38.80.

That slim margin of victory allows Largo to avoid a 2.5-hour drive to Naples and stay home to host North Fort Myers.

The Red Knights have a dual-threat quarterback in Johnathan Charles, a pair of capable backs in Shomari Mason and Chris Lucas, and a 1,000-yard receiver in Clayton Savinsky.

Largo counters with quarterback Keon Gulley, who’s thrown for 1,368 yards and 15 touchdowns, receiver Khaishef Edwards and an array of running options.

Clearwater wasn’t able to contain North Fort Myers on the road in the first round last year, falling 37-13. If Largo wants to reach the second round for the second straight year, the Packers defense needs to be up to the challenge and avoid falling in an early hole.

Class 6A: No. 7 Clearwater (6-4) at No. 2 Charlotte (8-2)

Last week’s 34-12 home loss to East Lake proved damaging, costing the Tornadoes the district title.

Punta Gorda Charlotte missed the playoffs last year after reaching the Class 6A final four in 2016, a run that included a 52-25 drubbing of Clearwater in the second round.

The Fightin’ Tarpons offense isn’t quite as potent as it was two years ago, but they’ve posted an 8-2 record and have a history of performing well in the postseason.

Clearwater had a rough night in the trenches last week against East Lake. With quarterback Rent Montie and rushing/receiving weapons Keedrik Murray, Qwa-shaun Perry, Latrez Bradley, Marcus Jeter and Marquvion Jeter, the Tornadoes can light up the scoreboard against most opponents. But Montie needs time to operate and ball handlers need more space to run.

Clearwater needs to brush off last week’s frustrations and head to Punta Gorda motivated and ready to go for a full 48 minutes.

Class 5A: No. 5 Booker (6-4) at No. 4 Lakewood (5-5)

A .500 record is all it took to win the District 5A-9 championship. Beating Largo 24-21 last week brought the title home, though. Lakewood edged Tarpon Springs with a point average of 36.80 to 35.40.

The Spartans get to stay home to host Sarasota Booker, a team with a better point average (40.10) and better record (6-4). The Tornadoes come to St. Petersburg riding a four-game winning streak, but they’ve actually been outscored this year, 220-195.

Last Friday’s win over Largo provides a nice confidence boost. Junior dual-threat quarterback Gregory Spann II can be electric and if mistakes are held to a minimum the Spartans should like their chances.

This is Lakewood’s seventh straight postseason appearance and the Spartans reached the region finals last season. Replicating that success is going to be difficult with unbeaten No. 1 Wachula Hardee or No. 8 Jefferson waiting next round, but Lakewood can definitely get to that point.