Football: Tampa Bay Area Buzz — Sept. 22, 2023

From the big games to the hidden gems, the Tampa Bay area buzz brings you the best from the football action in the region.

Shark attack

Riverview coach Tony Rodriguez knows all about the rivalry with East Bay, mostly from the opposing sideline. 

Rodriguez graduated from East Bay. He was an assistant at his alma mater for 14 years. He met his wife at the school. Their two children are East Bay graduates. 

So when Rodriguez switched sides, becoming the Sharks coach last year, he also was well  aware of the struggles his new team had competing in the annual grudge match against the school he used to call home. 

After all, it had been 14 years since Riverview knocked off its fiercest rival for the trophy affectionately known as “The Cup”. 

Last week, that streak ended. 

Behind a balanced attack, led by quarterback Aaron Turner and running back Rico Shoats, and a stingy defense, the Sharks won 18-12 to remain undefeated (4-0). 

“For the program, and for me personally, this was huge,” Rodriguez said. 

Riverview was consumed with the notion of gaining bragging rights ever since last year’s heartbreaking 21-19 loss to East Bay. 

“That’s all we’ve been talking about and working hard to accomplish,” Rodriguez said of snapping the streak. “At Riverview, winning this rivalry game is the measuring stick as to if we had a good season or not. It’s the No. 1 question we get when talking to former players, teachers and community members.

“They want to know if we’re going to beat The Bay this season.”

The focus was so intense, Rodriguez said, half-jokingly, that anyone caught wearing the color red was issued a $50 fine, per team policy. 

But winning meant more than just gaining an edge in the rivalry. It also signaled that the Sharks were turning things around. 

Last year, Riverview won five games, two more than the previous two seasons combined. Still, the Sharks were winless in district games and missed the playoffs. 

Next week, Riverview begins district play on the road against Newsome. 

“We feel that winning (against East Bay) gives us that much-needed confidence as we approach our three district games,” Rodriguez said. “Our team’s aspirations are to make the playoffs. Now, we have the confidence we can compete with anyone.

Plant City wins the Redman Cup

Terrence Hicks has already done some impressive things with the Raiders in his first full season as coach. He has guided them to three wins in their first four games, equaling last year’s victory total.

Better still, he won the game, beating rival Durant 17-14 last week for the coveted Redman Cup. 

That snapped Plant City’s two-year losing streak in the series. 

“It was big for my seniors,” Hicks said of bringing home the cup. “They can graduate knowing they beat their rival. It’s also huge for the team because now they believe. We’ve got to keep it rolling.” 

Tarpon Springs aims to take down another rival

Last week, Tarpon Springs did the improbable, converting on 4th-and-44 to keep alive a game-winning drive in a thrilling 22-21 victory over Palm Harbor University. 

The exhilaration of knocking off the Hurricanes for the inaugural Harbor Springs trophy has subsided. 

Now, the focus turns to an even bigger rival: East Lake. 

For decades, East Lake vs. Tarpon Springs was a rivalry without rival in Pinellas County. It consistently ranked as the highest attended football game in the county every season with crowds exceeding 3,000 thanks to loyal and rabid student sections (East Lake’s Blue Crue and Tarpon Springs’ Maroon Mob). Both schools have T-shirts designed for this annual clash — and they usually sell out within hours.

But the series has been decidedly one-sided in the Eagles’ favor. 

East Lake has not lost to its rival since 2008. Each of the last eight meetings has been decided by 20 or more points. 

This year, the Spongers have hope. They are 3-0 for the first time since 2014 and enter with a better record than their rival (East Lake is 1-2 after beating Boca Ciega last week for its first win of the season).

Bob Dare on verge of 200 wins

Bishop McLaughlin coach Bob Dare can reach 200 career wins with a victory over Orangewood Christian tonight. 

Dare has coached for 33 years, compiling 199 wins at Northside Christian, Cambridge Christian and Bishop McLaughin. He is the all-time winningest at Northside Christian and Cambridge Christian. 

In 2015, Dare guided the Lancers to the Class 2A state championship game, the program’s only appearance. 

This year, Dare has the Hurricanes off to a 4-0 start. Their four wins are more than the program’s previous three seasons combined. 

Injury report

Plant running back Waltez Clark, who committed to Florida last week, will be held out of tonight’s game against Chamberlain after injuring his ankle in last week’s win over Robinson, Panthers coach Hank Brown said. 

The plan is for Clark to return for next week’s Class 4M, District 7 opener against Strawberry Crest, Brown said.