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Football: Region semifinal preview (Classes 8A-5A)

Bob Putnam

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All games start at 7:30

Class 8A

Steinbrenner (4-2) at Newsome (6-2)

Stat leaders: Steinbrenner: RB Deon Silas, Sr. (160.0 rushing, 62.8 receiving yards per game); QB Bryce Lowe, Jr. (160.2 passing yards per game); LB Austin Brannen, Sr., (11.7 tackles per game); DB Matt Durrance, Sr. (0.5 interceptions per game). Newsome: RB Jason Albritton, Jr. (73.4 rushing yards per game); ATH Kamarii Austin, Sr., (81.6 passing yards per game); LB Caden Huffman (8.8 tackles per game); DB Kevin Osborne, Sr. (0.3 interceptions per game) 

Outlook: This is a rematch from last year’s region quarterfinals that Steinbrenner won 49-20 en route to reaching the state semifinals for the first time. Both teams can pile on the points but so in differing styles. The Warriors use a more balanced approach, led by versatile running back Deon Silas, an Iowa State commit who gained more than 300 yards rushing and scored five touchdowns on the ground in last week’s win over Ridge Community. The Wolves are all about the running game, relying on Jason Albritton (587 yards, 10 touchdowns this season) and J.C. Roque (528 yards, five touchdowns) to move the chains. 

Pinkos’ pick: Newsome by 4

Putnam’s prediction: Steinbrenner 28-20

Class 7A

Armwood (5-3) at Bloomingdale (10-0)

Stat leaders: Armwood: QB Cam’Ron Ransom, Sr. (198.8 passing yards per game); ATH Charles Montgomery, Sr. (73.8 receiving yards per game); WR Jamal Jones, Sr. (57.5 receiving yards per game); DL Desmond Watson, Sr. (4.8 tackles per game); DL Chris Davis, Sr. (1.8 sacks per game); DB Kye Stokes, Jr. (0.5 interceptions per game); DB Demarion Hopkins, Sr. (0.5 interceptions per game). Bloomingdale: QB Tre Simmons (197.3 passing yards per game); WR Agiye Hall, Sr. (93.8 receiving yards per game); LB Wa’myron Howard, Sr. (6.7 tackles per game); DL Malik Simmons, Sr., (0.9 sacks per game); DB Britton Pascoe, Jr. (0.7 interceptions per game).   

Outlook: One of the most anticipated matchups in the region semifinals. The rivals square off again in a rematch from the season opener the Bulls won 15-14. That helped Bloomingdale, ranked 11th overall in the state and 42nd nationally by MaxPreps, go undefeated in the regular season for the first time. Though the Hawks enter with three losses, they have all been by a combined nine points. Special teams were costly in the first meeting with the Bulls. Armwood had a snap sail over the punter’s head that was recovered for a touchdown and allowed a kickoff return for the other score. 

Pinkos’ pick: Bloomingdale by 7

Putnam’s prediction: Bloomingdale 14-13

Lakeland (6-3) at Tampa Bay Tech (7-3)

Stat leaders: Lakeland: QB Mason Martin, Jr. (104.3 passing yards per game); RB Reggie Kellum, Sr. (100.1 rushing yards per game). Tampa Bay Tech: QB David Wright, Sr. (243.2 passing yards per game); RB Rod Gainey, Fr. (64.5 rushing yards per game); WR Jamari Gassett, Sr. (90.1 yards receiving per game); DL/LB Keyon Clark, Jr. (5.5 tackles per game, 1.0 sacks per game); DB Steven Parker, Sr. (0.4 interceptions per game). 

Outlook: This is the game the Titans have been waiting for all season. Last year, Tampa Bay Tech nearly pulled off the upset of the Dreadnaughts, falling 37-30 in the region semifinals. This sime, the Titans get the rematch at home. David Wright threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting. He will need another strong performance for Tampa Bay Tech to have a chance to prevail. 

Pinkos’ pick: Tampa Bay Tech by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Tampa Bay Tech 35-34

Mitchell (10-0) at Wekiva (6-3)

Stat leaders: QB Ezra Brennan, Sr., (185.2 passing yards per game); RB Andy Treto, Jr. (82.9 rushing yards per game); WR Jonathan Fairbank, Sr. (55.2 receiving yards per game); WR Elijah Hadley, Sr. (55.4 receiving yards per game); WR Maguire Anderson, Sr. (33.4 receiving yards per game); DB Cole Castro, Sr. (6.4 tackles, 0.5 interceptions per game). Wekiva: QB Junior Muratovic (177.0 passing yards per game); RB Chad Davis, Jr., Sr. (55.8 rushing yards per game); WR Asaad Waseem, So. (60.2 receiving yards per game); LB Johnny Chaney, Sr., (6.4 tackles per game, 0.8 sacks per game); DB Tamareon Foster, Jr. (0.8 interceptions per game).  

Outlook: The best season in Mustangs history continues. They have already won two playoff games for the first time (the first one was a play-in game). Now Mitchell will try to take the next step by making its first region final. To get there, the Mustangs will have to get past its biggest challenge yet. Wekiva’s three losses have all come against quality opponents, including a one-point overtime defeat against undefeated Orlando Jones. The key will be how well Mitchell handles adversity. The Mustangs have won every game this year by 28 or more points.  

Pinkos’ pick: Wekiva by 10

Putnam’s prediction: Mitchell 28-24

Class 6A

Lake Minneola (8-1) at Largo (5-4)

Stat leaders: Largo: RB TJ Holmes, Sr. (134.4 rushing yards per game); QB Garrett Gurney, So. (72.6 passing yards per game); S Zayvion McCluster, So., (8.4 tackles per game); LB Adarius Hayes, Fr. (8.5 tackles per game); DL Deondre Randall, Jr. (1.0 sacks per game); DB Burhaan Hamm, Jr. (0.5 interceptions per game). Lake Minneola: QB Robbie Sanders, Jr. (71.8 passing yards per game); RB Sidarius Walker, Sr. (128.4 rushing yards per game); DB Jamel Butts, Sr. (11.0 tackles per game); DL Brendan Flakes, Sr. (1.0 sacks per game). 

Outlook: A rematch from last year’s region semifinals the Hawks won 33-13. The Packers have not played in two weeks. They advanced in last week’s region quarterfinals after Deltona was forced to forfeit after having multiple players in quarantine due to contact tracing. Largo cannot afford to be rusty, especially on defense. Lake Minneola is averaging 56 points in each of its last four games, all wins. 

Pinkos’ pick: Lake Minneola by 21

Putnam’s prediction: Lake Minneola 28-16

Gaither (10-0) at Countryside (8-3)

Stat leaders: Gaither: QB Kiael Kelly, Sr. (155.4 passing yards per game); RB Ricky Parks, Sr. (69.5 rushing yards per game); WR Drelin Pittman, Jr. (56.9 receiving yards per game); LB Nick Bartalo, Sr. (8.0 tackles per game); LB Hayden Reed, Sr. (6.4 tackles per game); DL Mario Eugenio, Sr. (2.0 sacks per game); DB Jordan Young, Sr. (0.3 interceptions per game); DB Jordan Oladokun, Sr. (0.3 interceptions per game). Countryside: QB Gabe Olds, Sr. (95.0 passing yards per game); RB Zyterius Watts, Jr. (59.7 rushing yards per game); LB Matt Sattinger, Sr. (10.7 tackles per game); DL Carson Burbee, Jr. (0.5 sacks per game). 

Outlook: The Cowboys, ranked 18th overall in the state, are in the region semifinals for the second straight season. They have been dominant against Pinellas County foes in the playoffs, beating Seminole and Clearwater by a combined 76-7 in the first two rounds. The Cougars, meanwhile, are in the region semifinals for the first time since 2010. To pull off the upset, Countryside will have to rely on its running game for some clock-eating drives that produce scores. That will be a tough task against a Gaither defense that has allowed just 45 points all season. 

Pinkos’ pick: Gaither by 28

Putnam’s prediction: Gaither 35-14

Palmetto (7-3) at Hillsborough (8-1) 

Stat leaders: Palmetto: QB Josh Siplin, Sr. (128.1 passing yards per game); RB Sagel Hickson, Sr. (73.9 rushing yards per game); LB Rubin Stamp, Sr. (10.6 tackles per game); DL Jordan Renaud, Sr. (0.6 sacks per game). Hillsborough: QB Caleb Pierce, Jr. (193.7 passing yards per game); RB Jordaan Bailey, Jr. (57.3 rushing yards per game); WR Kareem Chambers, Sr. (58.0 receiving yards per game); LB Joey Sipp Jr. (11.3 tackles per game); LB KJ Harris, Sr. (0.9 sacks per game).  

Outlook: The Terriers, who have won eight straight since dropping the season opener to Armwood, are in the region semifinals for the first time since 2017. Now, Hillsborough is trying to take the next step by reaching the region finals for the first time since 2012. To do that, the Terriers will continue to rely on their balanced offensive attack, led by quarterback Caleb Pierce and running backs Jordaan Bailey and Joey Sipp Jr. The Tigers, which made the state semifinals last season, are in the region semifinals for the third straight season. 

Pinkos’ pick: Palmetto by 6

Putnam’s prediction: Hillsborough 21-19

Class 5A

Zephyrhills (8-2) at Orlando Jones (8-0)

Stat leaders: Zephyrhills: QB Jaxson Rivera, Jr., (48.0 passing yards per game); RB Zyre Roundtree, Sr. (95.7 rushing yards per game); LB Theotis Smith, Jr. (8.4 tackles per game); DL Maguire Neal, Jr. (1.0 sacks per game); DB Tre Gallimore, Sr. (0.3 interceptions per game). Orlando Jones: QB Tysan Robbins, Sr. (156.0 passing yards per game); RB Daquan Harris, Jr. (102.0 rushing yards per game); LB Daniel Mosley, Jr. (6.2 tackles per game); LB Jonathan Aleem Jr., Sr. (0.7 sacks per game). 

Outlook: The Bulldogs, who made the region semifinals for the third time in the past four seasons, were supposed to host this game. But Pasco County implemented new COVID-19 safety guidelines that restricted fans and media members from attending games. To accommodate spectators from both teams, the Florida High School Athletic Association decided to move the game to Orlando Jones. To extend its eight game win streak, Zephyrhills will have to continue to rely on a strong running game, led by Zyre Roundtree and Tre Gallimore. The Fightin’ Tigers, who are ranked 44th in the nation and fifth overall in the state by MaxPreps, played in last year’s state final and are in the region semifinals for the third straight season.  

Pinkos’ pick: Orlando Jones by 31

Putnam’s prediction: Orlando Jones 34-21

Orlando Bishop Moore (6-2) at Jesuit (11-0)

Stat leaders: Orlando Bishop Moore: QB Luke Hedrick, Sr. (236.6 passing yards per game); RB Daniel Flatch, Sr. (61.8 yards per game); WR Marc Morrison, Sr. (85.1 receiving yards per game); LB Sonny Rao, Sr. (7.8 tackles per game); DL/LB Karlis Bailey-Vice, Sr. (1.0 sacks per game); Jesuit: QB Joe Pesansky (204.4 passing yards per game); RB Joquez Smith, So. (80.4 rushing yards per game); WR Junior Vaneross, Jr. (60.6 receiving yards per game); WR Jaydn Girard, So. (46.5 receiving yards per game); LB AJ Cottrill, Jr. (13.1 tackles per game); DB Tyler Corish, Sr. (0.5 sacks per game). 

Outlook: This is familiar territory for the Tigers, who are making their eighth straight region semifinal appearance. Jesuit has been to go on cruise control, winning nine games this season by double digits. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Tigers have outscored River Ridge and Chamberlain by a combined 85-14. It won’t be as easy against the Hornets, whose two losses this season were by a combined seven points. 

Pinkos’ pick: Jesuit by 14

Putnam’s prediction: Jesuit 27-14

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College Football

Seminole’s Chris Miller selected to coach in Tropical Bowl

Bob Putnam

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Seminole’s Chris Miller was named one of the head coaches for the Tropical Bowl, an all-star college football game featuring mostly FBS players who are potential NFL draft picks. 

Miller will coach the American team. He left Thursday to start practices for Sunday’s game, which kicks off at 11 a.m. at Kissimmee’s Celebration High. 

The staff Miller assembled includes Warhawks assistants Rob Ewing and Chris Parker and former Admiral Farragut standout Kreg Brown. 

After spending more than a decade as a player and a coach at Admiral Farragut, Miller left to become coach at Seminole in 2013. 

This is his third year coaching in a college all-star game. He was the receivers coach for the National Bowl in 2018 and was offensive coordinator for the game in 2019. 

Two locals are playing in this year’s Tropical Bowl — USF defensive back Mike Hampton (Hillsborough) and Florida International offensive lineman Shane McGough (Gaither).  

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Football

Hillsborough track star Erriyon Knighton reportedly turns pro

Bob Putnam

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Hillsborough’s Erriyon Knighton, who solidified himself as one of the nation’s top sprinters after an impressive performance this summer, has decided to forgo his high school and collegiate eligibility by signing with Adidas according to a report by Track and Field News. 

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Knighton becomes the second area track athlete to turn pro before exhausting his amateur status. In 2015, former Gibbs and Baylor sprinting sensation Trayvon Bromell signed with New Balance. A year later, Bromell was in the Olympics. 

Knighton is on the same path.  

At the Junior Olympics this past summer, Knighton won the 200 meters in a wind-legal time of 20.33 seconds, the fastest-ever recorded in the 16 year old’s age group (15-16) at the Junior Olympics and the nation’s top time by a high school athlete at that point last year. 

Knighton shaved 56 seconds off his personal best set in June of 2020. And his blistering 20.33 time was just 0.20 seconds off the under-18 world record set by Usain Bolt. 

That was not all. 

In the 100 meters, Knighton again sprinted to the head of the class at the Junior Olympics, this time winning in 10.29 seconds, a time that was tied for the nation’s top mark by a high school athlete this past year.

Those eye-opening times got the attention of the track-and-field aficionados — and the sporting world.

It also put him on the fast track to potential Olympic stardom. That was in part why he made the decision, according to Track and Field News. 

By doing so, Knighton is all but giving up a promising career in football. 

Knighton’s big-play ability, combined with his speed, made him a bona fide football prospect. He is already ranked as a four-star recruit and considered the state’s 15-best player for the Class of 2022 on 247 Sports’ composite list.

As a junior this past season, Knighton had 201 rushing yards, 484 receiving and accounted for eight touchdowns.  

Colleges took notice. Knighton has offers from several Division I-A programs, including Florida, FSU, Michigan and Tennessee. 

Knighton’s future is coming into his focus.

So is his vision. 

This summer, Knighton failed a physical because of poor eyesight. He had 20/100 vision in one eye and 20/80 in the other. He now has glasses and plans on getting contacts. 

“It didn’t really bother me in track,” Knighton told Prime Time Preps at the time. “I could still see. The only thing that was blurry was when I tried to read plays from the sideline in football.”

The picture is clear. No more football and track at Hillsborough, followed by four more years of both sports in college. 

The focus is now on the Olympics, something that Knighton said was a possibility this summer. 

“I might lean towards track, slightly,” Knighton told Prime Time Preps this summer.. “I’m thinking about the Olympics more and more.” 

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Football

Locals to watch in Sunday’s NFL wild-card games

Bob Putnam

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Several locals are playing in NFL wild-card games this weekend. Here are the ones on active rosters for Sunday’s games. 

Baltimore Ravens

WR Chris Moore

High school: Jefferson

College: Cincinnati

New Orleans Saints

RB Tony Jones Jr.

High school: St. Petersburg Catholic/IMG Academy

College: Notre Dame

Diontae Johnson
Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers

WR Diontae Johnson

High school: Lennard

College: Toledo

WR Ray-Ray McCloud

High school: Sickles

College: Clemson

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