Friday Night Previews: North Pinellas

Countryside High (6-2, 3-1) at Pinellas Park High (7-1, 3-1)
LAST MEETING: Oct. 26, 2012 at Pinellas Park – Cougars 23, Patriots 7
*** Suncoast News Game of the Week ***
*** Full coverage and photos after the game at ***
Both teams' seasons ride on this game Friday night.
Countryside, filled with newcomers and question marks, has been a tough squad to read all year. There's the Cougars team that beat Lakewood to open the season and trounced Tarpon Springs, and there's the Cougars that got decimated by East Lake and Palmetto.
Pinellas Park cruised through its cake-walk of a schedule at 7-0 before getting exposed by East Lake last week.
This game – and second place in Class 7A District 9 – seems like a toss up.
Beating Pinellas Park starts and ends with slowing down its stable of running backs. The Cougars defense probably can't do that all by itself, so a good way to help that effort out would be for the offense to sustain some drives Friday. Considering how much C-Side likes to go to the air, that means completing more than 58.2 percent of its attempts.
Boca Ciega High (2-6, 1-2) at Tarpon Springs High (4-4, 2-1)
LAST MEETING: Oct. 26, 2012 at Tarpon Springs – Pirates 33, Spongers 20
Tarpon Springs entered this season as the favorite to lock up second place in the weak Class 5A District 8. The Spongers can do just that Friday night by taking out visiting Boca Ciega.
A victory would also help Tarpon Springs get one win closer to an above-.500 season. The regular season wraps up with next week's home game against Dixie Hollins (2-6).
These next two games are critical for the Spongers in terms of the postseason, where a deep run is unlikely but a region quarterfinal win at either Anclote or Hudson is completely attainable.
Two clean victories over lesser competition will help build a little momentum heading into that first-round road playoff game.
Gibbs High (3-5, 1-2) at Dunedin High (1-7, 0-3)
LAST MEETING: Sept. 28, 2012 at Gibbs – Falcons 14, Gladiators 12
Somehow this game still has potential playoff implications.
If Boca Ciega pulls off the upset at Tarpon Springs and Gibbs beats Dunedin, like it should, a three-way tiebreaker would be necessary to decide the District 5A-8 runner-up.
Gibbs actually isn't half-bad. The Gladiators have enough talent to hang with better opponents but lack the depth to really threaten them. Teams like Dunedin, though; Gibbs can take care of. The Falcons are in complete rebuild mode, needing to boost participation numbers heading into next season.
East Lake High (8-0, 4-0) at Northeast High (1-7, 1-3)
LAST MEETING: Sept. 28, 2010 at Northeast – Eagles 31, Vikings 0
This is kind of like the dress rehearsal before a bigger event.
Although a state championship is paramount for East Lake, becoming the school's first team to ever achieve 10-0 perfection is a desired goal, as well.
Blowing through Northeast brings 9-0 and sets up next week's road game at St. Petersburg – a much more capable challenger.
As for this week, though, a motivation may be for the defense to try and notch its fourth shutout of the year.
Palm Harbor University High (4-4, 0-2) at Bradenton Manatee High (9-0, 2-0)
There are two ways to look at this matchup if you're Palm Harbor University.
The kneejerk reaction is to throw in the towel and ask for the clock to have been started yesterday. Manatee is unbeaten, a top-ranked team in the state and regarded as one of the nation's premier programs.
The alternate way of thinking, though, is that if there's ever been a good time to run into Manatee, it's at this exact moment. Manatee has already secured the District 8A-7 title and PHU is out of it. Although getting to 10-0 for the second straight year is probably a goal for Manatee players and coaches, staying healthy for the postseason takes precedence. Therefore, starters may be on the bench even earlier than normal.
It's easier said than done, but PHU would be best served by remembering that Manatee's large, deep roster is filled with kids ages 14-18, just like its own. The 'Canes have this one and next week's Senior Night game against Gibbs remaining, so just let it all hang out down in Bradenton and see what happens.
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