Port Charlotte High (10-1) at East Lake High (12-0)
*** Suncoast News Game of the Week ***
*** Full coverage and photos after the game at www.SuncoastNews.com ***
EAST LAKE — Third time's a charm. At least that's the hope in East Lake.
The Eagles play in their third consecutive region final Friday night after two years of coming up short.
“We're going there three times in a row now so we can't let it happen again,” said senior Artavis Scott after East Lake hammered Pinellas Park, 45-0. “We have to get over that hump.”
Standing in the Eagles' way this year is Port Charlotte, a 10-1 team getting its first taste of playoff success. This is the Pirates' fifth trip to the tournament and this year's two wins are their first ever.
East Lake and Port Charlotte actually enter Friday's game with similar 2013 playoff resumes. After escaping tense, first-round victories, both teams rolled over region semifinal opponents that operate run-heavy, Wing-T offenses.
Port Charlotte took out Melbourne 35-0, getting 144 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Traige McClary (No. 1). Two of those scores were long hookups of 65 and 56 yards to Paulsin Heitter (No. 4). The longer of the two came on the Pirates' first offensive play from scrimmage.
Despite those big hitters through the air, though, Port Charlotte is a running team that relies on its ground game first and foremost. McClary only completed three passes – they just happened to all go for touchdowns and those 144 yards.
The Pirates may not run a Wing-T, but their attack is predicated on the combined effort of multiple tailbacks (sound familiar?). Guys like Keon Suber (No. 5), Anthony Stephens (No. 2), Martin Luther (No. 23) and Grady Wells (No. 6) can be expected to take the bulk of the McClary's handoffs.
This type of strategy, of course, is nothing new for an Eagles defense coming off its fifth shutout of the season.
Seemingly similar to Pinellas Park, Port Charlotte likes to try and make its limited passing attempts count. That's by going over the top of pulled-in defenses.
This may be presumptuous, but East Lake's secondary – led by USF-bound safety Devin Abraham – is not the type of unit that's going to get burned that badly in a single game.
Friday night will truly come down to Port Charlotte's ability to pick up steady yardage against an Eagles front that has swallowed up quality running backs all year.
Another similarity Port Charlotte has with East Lake's previous opponent, Pinellas Park, is its strength of schedule – or lack thereof. Prior to the postseason, the overall record of the Pirates' nine regular-season opponents was 35-55.
If the Eagles play their game, avoid silly penalties and turnovers (like two weeks ago against Palmetto) and don't go into the game thinking ahead to next Friday's potential state semi between the winner of Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, East Lake should be celebrating history around 10 p.m. Friday