Everything up to this point — the victories, defeats, momentum gained and lost — has been nice, but for three teams, the meat of the season starts this week with the opening of district play.

Charlotte, DeSoto County and Port Charlotte get their first looks at the revamped districts established in the offseason.

It’s not to say that the past three games didn’t matter, because quality non-district wins matter more than they used to with the new playoff points system, but this week is key in the quest for a district championship and a guaranteed playoff spot.

It isn’t an easy opener for the Pirates and Tarpons, who kick things off with opponents that won nine-plus games each and made the playoffs in 2018.

Port Charlotte gets high-flying Palmetto, which possess upper-level speed and athleticism. Offensively, they are balanced with a strong passing game behind quarterback Xavier Williams and mix in some read-options.

Both teams enter the game undefeated and aware of the magnitude of starting 1-0 in the district. With arguably its biggest test yet, Port Charlotte knows it needs to be crisp to get the edge.

“You always want to start district play off with a win, but with the points system every game is a district game,” Port Charlotte coach Jordan Ingman said. “Palmetto is a very well coached and talented football team. We will have to play well in all three phases and win the turnover battle.”

Charlotte gets Braden River, albeit a less potent version compared to the team that reached the regional semifinal last year. The Pirates had a slew of transfers in the offseason to Sarasota, including star running back Brian Battie, who rushed for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last year.

With that, Braden River has developed a strong passing attack led by quarterback Shawqi Itraish. But Itraish will have to find room in the stingy Charlotte defense that has only allowed 22 points through three games.

“Our kids understand, it’s a district game. You’ve got to win them,” Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop said. “We’re gonna get tested like we haven’t been all year. They’re well coached. They have a complicated scheme and are really good up front and they have a quarterback that can throw the heck out of the ball.”

The Tarpons have pretty much rolled every team they’ve faced so far, but that hasn’t made them a little hesitant going up against a team of this caliber, even if Braden River enters with a 1-2 record.

“It’s a big game,” Charlotte senior Tai’Viahn Kelly said. “We’ve been playing against some pretty good teams and now we’re into our district. We just have to come out of practice and work hard. I think we’re ready.”

DeSoto hosts Mariner and is looking to bounce back from a taxing loss to Port Charlotte.

The Bulldogs aren’t sweating their 1-2 record to open the season. They started 2018 in similar fashion, but won six of the next seven games after dropping the season opener, reaching the playoffs.

DeSoto will be looking to regain some momentum against the Tritons.

“I’m looking for them to come out strong,” DeSoto coach Bumper Hay said. “We’re looking for our first district win and our first home win. So really for us, the season’s starting right now.”

Mariner (0-3) at DeSoto County (1-2), 7:30 p.m.

Players to watch: DeSoto County — LB Juan Garibay, QB Tony Blanding, ATH Ethan Redden. Mariner — RB Cade Reynolds, WR Jalen King.

Last time they met: N/A

Predictions: Jacob Hoag, DeSoto 28-10; Ben Baugh, DeSoto 27-13; Vinnie Portell, DeSoto 21-7

Charlotte (3-0) at Braden River (1-2), 7:30 p.m.

Players to watch: Charlotte — ATH Jeremiah Harvey, QB John Busha, LB Malakai Menzer. Braden River — LB Noah Font, ATH Gregory Cotton.

Last time they met: N/A

Predictions: Hoag, Charlotte 31-17; Baugh, Charlotte 35-14; Portell Charlotte 35-21

Palmetto (3-0) at Port Charlotte (3-0), 7:30 p.m.

Players to watch: Port Charlotte — RB Ja’Nyrein Washington, QB Logan Rogers, OL Evan Smith. Palmetto — DB Daemon Hill, QB Xavier Williams, WR Eddravian Butler.

Last time they met: N/A

Predictions: Hoag, Palmetto 28-26; Baugh, Palmetto 24-16; Portell, Palmetto 28-21

North Port (0-3) at Lakewood Ranch (2-0), 7:30 p.m.

A ton has changed since North Port faced Lakewood Ranch a season ago. The Bobcat rushing attack was rolling to the tune of 212 yards and four scores from running back Jalien Whye and Lakewood was a fledging program on a mounting losing streak.

This year Lakewood Ranch comes in 2-0 and its North Port searching for momentum.

The Mustangs have seen a growth in numbers and are playing with a renewed fire under new coach Rashad West. For North Port, the Bobcats are still trying to establish a consistent offense with a run-heavy approach.

“(Coach West) has done a good job over there,” North Port coach Brian Hatler said. “Any time a new staff comes in there’s some excitement. We gotta do everything we can to minimize things. We have to identify what we’re doing and we’ve gotta execute. It all comes down to blocking and tackling.”

Players to watch: North Port — OL Michael Walz, ATH Taylor Willis, LB Dominic Spurlock. Lakewood Ranch — WR Michael Cucci, QB Cameron Goldsmith, ATH Dylan Bennett.

Last time they met: North Port won 34-6 (2018)

Predictions: Hoag, North Port 17-16; Baugh, Lakewood Ranch 21-7; Portell, Lakewood Ranch 21-7

Lemon Bay (0-3) at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal (2-1), 7:30 p.m.

Saint Stephen’s comes in with what looks like a balanced offense, according to Maxpreps. They throw more than the average team, but have about equal play calling.

The Falcons are led by Dylan Zervos, who is 34 of 65 passing on the year with 360 yards and three scores. Most of that is to his favorite target Ty Barker, who has 19 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown.

Lemon Bay will most likely continue to run it with tailback Colby McCauley and play strong defensively.

Players to watch: Lemon Bay — RB Colby McCauley, LB Aidan Moore, K John Moore. St. Stephen’s — QB Dylan Zervos, RB DJ Clark, LB Cam Vining.

Last time they met: N/A

Predictions: Hoag, St. Stephen’s 17-14; Baugh, St. Stephen’s 28-21; Portell, St. Stephen’s 21-7

Email Jacob Hoag at jacob.hoag@yoursun.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJacobHoag.


Recommended for you

Load comments