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Friday night rewind

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Scoreboard

Gaither 17, Armwood 10

Bloomingdale 39, Lakeland 14

Sarasota Riverview 26, Newsome 13

Cambridge Christian 14, Carrollwood Day 11

Jesuit 69, Gibbs 6

Berkeley Prep 34, Lakeland Christian 28

Lakewood Ranch 34, Hollins 12

Clearwater Academy 60, Surge Academy 0

Indian Rocks 47, Out-of-Door 7

Hudson 29, Dunedin 28

St. Petersburg Catholic 42, Bishop McLaughlin 14

Seffner Christian 14, Cardinal Mooney 9

Anclote 28, Tarpon Springs 13

Lennard 51, Haines City 0

Zephyrhills 35, River Ridge 24

Steinbrenner 34, Palm Harbor 8

Wiregrass Ranch 42, Land O’ Lakes 7

Mitchell 47, Sunlake 0

Northside 36, Keswick Christian 14

Nature Coast 42, Lecanto 0

CCC 38, Pasco 21

Springstead 40, Citrus 0

Crystal River 7, Weeki Wachee 0

Wharton 10, Plant 0

Durant 51, Strawberry Crest 0

Hillsborough 52, King 18

Wesley Chapel 26, Gulf 8

Middleton 18, Spoto 0

Sarasota 45, Zephyrhills Chr. 22

East Lake 43, Leto 20

Plant City 35, Kathleen 13

Fivay 36, Cypress Creek 11

Robinson 42, Bayshore 0

Jefferson 25, East Bay 19 (2 OT)

Ridge Community 45, Riverview 42

Blake 28, Brandon 0

Oak Hall 42, Shorecrest 8

Prime time teams

Gaither: The Cowboys were calling this their statement game and they certainly made one by applying constant defensive pressure to exact revenge from last year’s loss to beat Armwood 17-10. 

Bloomingdale: The Bulls also got some payback by routing Lakeland 39-14. It is Bloomingdale’s first win against the Dreadnaughts since 1983 and puts the Bulls in a position to be the top team coming out of the ultra-competitive Class 7A, Region 3. 

Cambridge: The Lancers dealt with a coaching change and the loss of a few players who transferred during the offseason. Still, under new coach Chad Walker, they have thrived and are now one of the frontrunners to get through the Class 2A, Region 3 bracket after knocking off Carrollwood Day 14-11.  

East Lake: After starting 2-3, the Eagles have won three straight after beating Leto 43-20. That gives East Lake some much-needed momentum heading into this week’s game against Pinellas Park. 

Pinellas Park: The running game is starting to click. And the pass rush has been relentless. It all adds up to a two-game win streak in which the Patriots outscored Sunlake and Sickles by a combined  69-7. 

Zephyrhills: After an 0-2 start, the Bulldogs have won four straight, the biggest coming against River Ridge (35-24) on Friday that would have clinched a district title for Zephyrhills if there was one this season. 

Prime time performers

RB Austin Blandford, Sr., Fivay: Scored on a run and a reception on offense and added a defensive touchdown with an interception return against Cypress Creek. 

DB Jaiden Bivens, Jr., Cambridge Christian: Recovered two fumbles to help the Lancers beat Carrollwood Day. 

DB Tyler Corish, Sr., Jesuit: Returned two interceptions for touchdowns against Gibbs and has three defensive scores in as many weeks. 

QB Emery Floyd, Sr., Wharton: Threw for 133 yards, as the lone touchdown, in a win over Plant. 

SB Tre Gallimore, Sr., Zephyrhills: Ran for a 55-yard touchdown and added another score on a 57-yard reception to help the Bulldogs beat River Ridge. 

DL Mykel McBurrows, Sr., Pinellas Park: Record four sacks against Sickles and has eight in the past two games.  

RB Kinyatah Morgan, Sr., Nature Coast: Scored twice, including on a 50-yard run, in a win over Lecanto.

QB Carson Mohler, Jr., Plant City: Came in for relief at quarterback and threw two touchdown passes in the win against Lakeland Kathleen. 

QB Dylan Oester, Sr., Dunedin: Set the school single-season record with his 18th touchdown pass against Hudson. 

RB Ricky Parks, Sr., Gaither: The Utah commit scored both the Cowboys touchdowns on the ground against Armwood. 

QB Caleb Pierce, Jr., Hillsborough: Threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns in the win over King. 

QB Tre Simmons, Sr., Bloomingdale: Threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Lakeland. 

QB Jack Smitherman, Sr., Lakewood: Completed all five of his passes for 190 yards and four touchdowns before being relieved in Thursday’s rout over St. Petersburg. 

QB Chris Stephenson, So., Cambridge: Ran for two touchdowns in the win over Carrollwood Day. 

DL Tawfiq Thomas, Jr., Gaither: Showed off his hands by picking off two passes, the last one to seal a victory over Armwood. 

RB Raymond Walker, Sr., St. Petersburg Catholic: Scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in a win over Bishop McLaughlin.

QB Hunter Young, Jr., Hudson: Threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Dunedin. 

Still perfect

Nine area teams still are undefeated. They have either one of two regular season games left depending on if they drew a play-in game for the opening round of the playoffs to try and keep their perfect regular seasons intact. 

Bloomingdale (6-0)

Remaining schedule: Friday at Strawberry Crest (0-6); Nov. 6 vs. Steinbrenner (3-2). 

Calvary Christian (6-0)

Remaining schedule: Friday at Trinity Catholic (3-3); Nov. 6 at Land O’ Lakes (1-3)

Cambridge (7-0)

Remaining schedule: Friday vs. Orlando Christian Prep (5-1); Nov. 6 at Lakeland Victory Christian (4-3)

Gaither (6-0)

Remaining schedule: Friday vs. Freedom (0-6)

Jesuit (8-0)

Remaining schedule: Thursday at Bradenton Bayshore (0-6); Nov. 6 at Tampa Catholic (4-1)

Lakewood (5-0)

Remaining schedule: Friday vs. Largo (3-3); Nov. 6 at Plant (1-4)

Mitchell (6-0)

Remaining schedule: Friday at Sickles (2-4); Nov. 6 vs. Wesley Chapel (3-2)

Nature Coast (5-0)

Remaining schedule: vs. Crystal River (2-2); at Weeki Wachee (2-3)

Wharton (6-0)

Remaining schedule: Friday at Steinbrenner (3-2); Nov. 6 vs. Durant (3-3)

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Tampa Bay Tech’s Rod Gainey transfers to IMG Academy

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Rod Gainey, one of the nation’s premier running backs in the Class of 2024, is leaving Tampa Bay Tech after one season to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Titans coach Jayson Roberts confirmed. 

As a freshman last season, Gainey rushed for 836 yards (7.7 per carry) and had 10 touchdowns on the ground to give Tampa Bay Tech’s high-powered passing game some balance. 

Already a youth league legend in Hillsborough County, Gainey’s performance in his debut high school season only solidified his stats as one of the county’s top recruits in his class. 

Gainey already has offers from Florida, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Toledo, UCF, USF and West Virginia, among others. 

This is the second offseason the Titans have lost a star ball carrier to IMG. Last year, Stacey Gage, an incoming freshman at the time, said he was deciding between Tampa Bay Tech and IMG. He ultimately joined the Ascenders, who are a national powerhouse. 

Though the loss of Gainey hurts, Roberts said the ground game still is in solid shape thanks to an offensive line that returns all five starters — Kai Gadson, Shaun Lango, Fred Neal, DJ Porcher and J’shon Scott. And that list does not include Melvin Sylvester, a 6-foot-5, 270 pound incoming freshman who should get plenty of playing time. 

James Evans, John Ponder and Ronald Sims will now handle the bulk of the rushing load, Roberts said. 

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Football

Meet Lakewood’s queen of the block

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Melia Garcia knew all about the success of Lakewood’s athletic program before arriving this year as an advanced placement and honors world history teacher.

The subject that really piqued her interest was football. Discussions about the sport constantly came up, particularly among the players in her classes.

Garcia was hooked. She became one of the Spartans’ most ardent supporters, attending nearly every game.  

Still, Garcia grew tired of watching from the stands. So she came up with an idea that would allow her to be more directly involved with the program.

In January, Garcia asked Lakewood coach Cory Moore about joining the football staff. 

There were no double takes from Moore, despite Garcia having no previous coaching experience. 

“I knew she was serious about it,” Moore said. “And I welcomed it because I saw just how good of a teacher Melia is in the classroom and how well she interacted with her students.

“I thought that was exactly the kind of addition we could use on staff.”

At first, Moore had Garcia observe offseason conditioning so they could decide the best fit for her as an assistant. 

Garcia zeroed in on the trenches. 

She wanted to coach the offensive line. 

“That’s the one area I felt most passionate about,” Garcia said. 

Women have broken plenty of barriers to coach at the highest level of football. There are currently eight female coaches in the NFL, including two on the staff of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar. 

Those trailblazers helped pave the way for other females to become coaches in the college and high school ranks.

Garcia admires what they have done, but insists that is not the sole reason she wanted to pursue a job as an assistant. 

“I really wanted to set my own boundaries,” she said. 

So Garcia created her path by instructing big-bodied students to pave the way for others on the offensive side of the ball. 

The bond with blockers grew from her friendship with Tyler Armillay, a former standout lineman from Scranton, Pa. who went to play at Assumption and is now the offensive line coach at Endicott College.

Their conversations would often be about life on the line. Armillay taught Garcia the fundamentals of pass protection and moving defenders out of the way in the run game.

Garcia felt she could do the same with her students. 

Before that could happen, she needed acceptance. Garcia worried how a bunch of teenage boys would react to a female instructing them on the field. 

Those concerns were quickly soothed.

“Once the guys could see that she knew what she was talking about, they had a great relationship,” Moore said. 

Garcia gets her point across because she knows how to teach.

“I think they wanted someone that was nurturing enough to not crush their spirit but tough enough to make sure they didn’t mess around,” Garcia said.  

Her involvement is not restricted to drawing Xs and Os on a board. During spring practice, Garcia stood among her pupils as they jabbed and punched. She talked about body balance and counterstrikes and proper footwork.

Often, Garcia demonstrated by getting in the middle of piles. 

“Melia is not just some bystander,” Moore said. “At practice, she is in the dirt, in the grind. She’s hands-on all the way.”

Isaiah Cooper, a three-year starter who has played every position on the Spartans’ offensive line, was impressed. 

“She’s phenomenal,” Cooper said of Garcia. “You couldn’t even tell she was new. There were some things I didn’t know, that she knew. And she knows how to listen and find ways to relay the information in ways that we’ll understand.”

Her impact is felt off the field, too. 

Moore made Garcia an academic advisor. Players are required to turn in progress reports, complete with signatures from the teachers. Those who fail to do so are not allowed to practice. 

“The grades were a little rough for some, and now they’ve improved tremendously,” Cooper said. “Everything has gone a lot more smoothly as far as academics.”

And they should continue to improve with Garcia running study hall this fall.

“Melia has far exceeded my expectations,” Moore said. “In the classroom. On the field. She does it all.

“She is the real deal.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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