For Pinellas prep football teams, questions remain at season’s midpoint

The River Ridge defense swallowed up Tarpon Springs ball carriers all night last week as the visiting Royal Knights put a damper on homecoming festivities.

Area high school football teams have shown who they are and what they’re capable of heading into Week 5, but that doesn’t mean all questions have answers.

Most district playoff races are up for grabs and the postseason should be in the futures of a few north Pinellas programs. The area’s top team, however, may have swung and missed on its chance to win a district championship.

Clearwater is on a bye this week and last Friday’s loss at Largo may have cost it the Class 6A District 7 title. Sure, that was both teams’ first of four league games, but the other three opponents aren’t on the level of Clearwater and Largo. Countryside will get its shot to prove that theory wrong Sept. 27 when it hosts Largo. If that game goes as expected, Clearwater will have to rely on its Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to qualify as an at-large team.

Tarpon Springs (0-3) at East Lake (2-2)

The back-and-forth between students on social media and with mid-game chants will probably be pretty intense. The game on the field Friday? Probably not so much.

East Lake and Tarpon Springs will always be a rivalry in every sport. It just hasn’t been much of one on the football field in recent years. The last time Tarpon Springs won the big game was when current seniors were in first grade – 2008. It’s been since 2012, when East Lake won 20-14, that the game’s been decided by fewer than 10 points.

Friday night’s contest should play out like it has the past four years, with East Lake beating Tarpon Springs by quite a few points. The Spongers are in the throes of a rebuild and have yet to score a point in three games.

A win Friday would give the Eagles three in a row after starting 0-2. They opened District 7A-9 play with a 51-15 win over Sunlake and get their first major league test Sept. 27 at Mitchell. That game will go a long way in determining whether or not East Lake can win the difficult district.

Gulf (0-4) at Dunedin (3-1)

Running the table was unlikely and Dunedin took its first loss of the season last week at Seminole.

The 48-22 setback dropped the Falcons to 3-1, but now the coaching staff and players get to see how everyone responds Friday against a team they should beat. Gulf comes to Dunedin at 0-4 overall. The Buccaneers have been outscored 171-8, which is something Dunedin has been able to relate to in recent years.

Seminole is another long-suffering program working its way back to playing competitive football, so last week’s defeat shouldn’t be overly discouraging. Turnovers and inconsistency running the ball allowed Seminole to string together second-half scores.

The Falcons offense should find success on the ground and through the air Friday night and keeping Gulf off the scoreboard would be a nice accomplishment and Dunedin’s second shutout of the year.

Countryside (2-1) at Palm Harbor University (2-2)

This game features two teams that are still a little difficult to figure out.

Neither are expected to reach the postseason, but they’re both proving that they can win football games. PHU did that last week by opening District 8A-7 play with a 13-7 win over Wharton. The Wildcats aren’t exactly Hillsborough County juggernauts, but a win’s a win.

Countryside got back on track after its surprising 22-point loss to Dixie Hollins two weeks ago.

Both teams lean on their running game, so expect a quick-moving contest with 60-70 combined rushing attempts.

The Hurricanes managed to win last week despite completing just 2 of 4 passes for nine yards and rushing for only 73 yards. They’re going to need a little more than that Friday.

Countryside piled up 320 rushing yards against Osceola, with quarterback Kamrhen Simpkins leading the way with 113 and a touchdown. Simpkins also completed 8 of 15 passes for 69 yards and a score. No. 2 will be the PHU defense’s No. 1 concern.