CLEARWATER — East Lake and Lakewood — not everyone gets to be in such enviably comfortable positions this time of year. With two weeks of regular-season football remaining, both of those squads can set their minds at ease — somewhat — knowing district titles and home playoff berths are in the bag. Life isn’t so cozy, though, throughout the rest of the county. Two North Pinellas programs, Countryside and Tarpon Springs, are playing for their playoff lives come kickoff Friday night.
Facing the stiffer test of the two is Countryside, which must travel to Pinellas Park and face a hard-nosed Patriots squad coming off last week’s demoralizing loss. The Cougars realized two weeks ago what Pinellas Park did last Friday, which is that East Lake is far-and-away at the top of Class 7A District 9. Countryside coaches and players would be well-served watching a little of last week’s game tape to see how the Patriots’ triumvirate of running backs was slowed to 150 total rushing yards. Trying to duplicate the Eagles’ defensive success will be similar to trying to bake a gourmet cake with generic ingredients. Emulation of limiting Pinellas Park’s big gains on first and second down will be key. As for Tarpon Springs, it’s not to say the Spongers have a cupcake matchup this week with Boca Ciega coming to town, but it’s certainly favorable in comparison to C-Side’s situation. The game is also win-or-go-home for both teams. Tarpon Springs is guaranteed second place in Class 5A District 8 with a win. A loss, though, sets up what would likely be a three-way tie situation for the runner-up slot, with the Spongers, Boca Ciega and Gibbs all at 2-2 in league play. That scenario requires Gibbs beating Dunedin on Friday night. If Gibbs were to lose to the Falcons combined with a Boca Ciega win over Tarpon Springs, the Spongers would suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in. A win over a team the Spongers should be able to handle is the optimal solution. Coming off back-to-back beatings by a combined score of 81-24, it will be interested to see if Tarpon Springs comes out with a renewed fire, considering the stakes, or lets frustration continue to mount. Other county games to watch: St. Petersburg at Sarasota Riverview — The Green Devils are traveling south over the bridge Sarasota for this do-or-die matchup between Class 8A District 7 teams. Brandenton Manatee, in Palm Harbor on Friday, have already sealed up the league’s top spot. Venice at Osceola — Osceola comes in as an underdog, but the Warriors are at home. This game’s winner is the District 6A-7 runner-up to Largo High. email@example.com (727) 815-1071