District Championships Hang in The Balance in Key Showdowns
Fri. November 02, 2012 at 1:10 a.m. | By Solange Reyner
Jonte Sergeant, left, of Lake Wales and Charles Taylor, right, of Auburdale. (Photo by LEDGER FILES)
By SOLANGE REYNER
AUBURNDALE | Auburndale's got its swagger back.
At least that's what's printed in yellow on the back of the team's blue practice T-Shirts.
An explanation on the saying from senior lineman Antonio Thomas: "It's not so much our swagger as it is bringing Auburndale back to how it used to be."
Back to the winning days.
Ah, coach Kenneth Grantham remembers those times well. As a player, he won a district title in 1989 with Auburndale, the year the Bloodhounds made it to the state semifinals.
"I still have that letterman's jacket with the patch on it," he said Thursday after practice.
"It doesn't fit but it's hanging in the locker room so these guys can see it."
A little bit of motivation, perhaps, for this team to win one of its own.
Auburndale will get that chance tonight when it travels to Lake Wales for the Class 5A, District 9 championship game.
The winner gets home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, since both teams have already clinched post season berths. The loser has to travel for its first game.
"There's no doubt a win would be a huge lift for this program," Grantham said. "I think it would electrify the community."
But what will it take to beat a big, physical Lake Wales squad that likes to run the ball down your throat?
"Tremendous speed and quickness to counter their strength, great execution," Grantham said.
And big games on offense from Charles Taylor, Wilbur Cooper and Derwin James. Taylor and Cooper had big performances last week against Fort Meade, rushing for 160-plus yards each, but that might be tougher to do against the Highlanders, who are allowing less than 100 yards on the ground per game.
"There are some good football players over there," Thomas said.
"De'Shaun Dunn, Jonte Sergeant, David Jones – I know all those guys. They're very physical but if we match that, if we exceed that we'll be OK. If we play Bloodhound football, we'll be OK."
That means getting dirty and aggressive. And if Thomas' helmet is any indication of what that means – it's scuffed up bad along with the facemask – this game could be a grinder.
It's not the only contest with a district title on the line.
At Ridge Community, Shykeem Pitts will try to lead his team to the Class 7A-7 district title against Lakeland.
He had bravado enough to say his team would beat the Dreadnaughts after Ridge's game against Fort Meade on Sept. 28 - running back Trayvon Howard shared that sentiment – but can he put the Bolts on his back against a pretty stingy Lakeland defense?
"He's a great playmaker and he's got great ability," said Ridge coach Richard Tate.
That's why Tate incorporated Pitts back into the quarterback position about three weeks ago. Pitts played there last year but was mostly on defense this season until Ridge played Lake Gibson.
"We though putting Shykeem back there would give us the best chance to win," Tate said.
He's surely someone to game plan around.
"He can hurt you in so many different ways whether it be in option or pulling it, he just makes plays," Lakeland coach Bill Castle said.
"He's really a difference maker."
Lakeland carries a big stick into Davenport, though.
The Dreadnaughts are 8-0, yes they've had three very close wins, but teams have only scored 58 points total against them.
They're also coming off a bye week.
"We needed it," Castle said. "We've been winning some close games and the kids have been working really hard but they needed a mental break."
No break for five other Polk County teams trying to secure a spot in the playoffs.
Victory Christian has a shot to force a three-way tie for second place in 2A-4 if it wins tonight and Agape Christian wins. Bartow and Kathleen have a chance to do the same in 6A-10, but that can only happen if Bartow beats Winter Haven tonight and Kathleen takes care of Sebring.
If that happens, there will be a play-off on Monday, Nov. 5 according to the FHSAA website.
Victory will also have to play on that date to secure a runner-up spot.
In 3A-6, Lakeland Christian and Frostproof battle for a runner-up spot in Fhile Fort Meade looks to lock up its 14th district title in Sarasota when the Miners take on Cardinal Mooney.
[ Solange Reyner may be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7526. ]