Prep football midseason review

With five weeks of high school football in the books, the midway point of the 2018 season has been reached.

Here’s a look at some of the storylines and highlights from schools in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:

Boisterous Bulldogs
No Charles Harrison III? No problem. The Zephyrhills High Bulldogs have maintained their winning ways, even without the prolific and record-setting signal-caller, who graduated last season and now plays for Division III Brevard College in North Carolina.

The Zephyrhills High Bulldogs have successfully built off last season’s 10-2 campaign with a 4-0 start in 2018. (Courtesy of Zephyrhills High School)

The Bulldogs offense (29.3 points per game) isn’t quite as prolific as last season when Harrison III was under center (41 points per game), however, they’ve managed with a balanced attack through the air and ground.

Meanwhile, an extremely stingy defense (13 points allowed per game) has made life difficult for the opposition.

Zephyrhills could foreseeably run the table for the regular season, considering just one of its remaining foes has a winning record — Wesley Chapel High School, at 3-2 overall — and that’s a home game, where the Bulldogs are 13-2 since 2016.

Further, the Bulldogs arguably have the most talented squad in Pasco County, with bona fide Division I  FBS talent in receiver/defensive back Ja’quan Sheppard and running back/defensive back Cartrell Strong, among other future college prospects.

Also noteworthy: Bulldogs third-year head coach Nick Carroll is off to one of the best coaching starts in county history, with a remarkable 23-5 record since taking over for former coach Reggie Roberts in 2016. That includes 13 straight regular season wins dating back to last season.

Galvanized Gators
The hiring of Chad Walker, a first-time high school head football coach, is thus far paying off for the Land O’ Lakes High Gators.

The Land O’ Lakes High Gators are off to a 3-1 start under first-year head coach Chad Walker. (File)

At 3-1, the Gators are off to their best start since 2013, when the program last had a winning season and finished 8-2.

Whatever happens the remainder of 2018, this season will go down in lore for Land O’ Lakes.

That’s because the Gators broke an eight-game losing streak in the annual Butter Bowl rivalry game against Sunlake High, with a convincing 34-25 home win on Sept. 14. The historic win also coincided with the renaming of the press box at John Benedetto Stadium to the Mike Connor Family Press Box, after the longtime athletics booster and former Voice of the Gators.

Besides a road game against Mitchell High on Oct. 26, the Gators have a manageable slate and very well could complete what’s been a long time coming: a winning season. It also doesn’t hurt that the Gators have one of the county’s top offensive playmakers in senior tailback Kyle Leivas, who’s already tallied 613 rushing yards and six total touchdowns, including two straight 200-yard rushing performances against, respectively, Cypress Creek Middle High (224 yards on 25 carries) and Sunlake (223 yards on 19 carries).

Cool, confident Coyotes
After going winless in its first season as a program, victories are finally coming to the Cypress Creek Middle High Coyotes and second-year head coach Mike Johnson.

Cypress Creek captured the program’s first-ever win on Sept. 7, defeating Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High 42-22 on the road. (Courtesy of Cypress Creek Middle High School)

The upstart program already has two wins on the year, against Bishop McLaughlin Catholic and Pasco high schools.

Also, unlike last season, the Coyotes actually have a senior class.

Among the 12 seniors, the Coyotes have received significant contributions from tailback/safety Tim Ford-Brown, receiver/linebacker/punter Quinton Spears and receiver/safety/defensive end Devin Santana, among others.

Meantime, twin brothers Jehlani Warren, a junior quarterback, and Jalen Warren, a junior receiver, have made the Coyotes a fun watch, as they’ve hooked up for a bevy of big plays and touchdowns this season.

Going forward, expectations should remain modest for a program stepping into the ever-growing competitive area.

Yet, don’t be shocked if the Coyotes pull out another win or two before the end of the 2018 season.

Slow start, strong finish?
While Land O’ Lakes High is experiencing its best start in years, crosstown rival Sunlake High  is struggling with a 1-3 mark.

For the second straight year, Sunlake has opened with a 1-3 mark. (File)

Besides Land O’ Lakes, the Seahawks have faced stiff competition out of the gate, losing to Wiregrass Ranch High and to Zephyrhills High, in overtime.

The Seahawks did, however, open the season with a 25-0 road win over Wesley Chapel High — never an easy task.

The second half of the season shouldn’t be quite as daunting. However, it does include a string of three straight road games in October against Cypress Creek, Pasco and Brooksville Central high schools, respectively.

Interestingly, Sunlake also started off 1-3 last season, before rolling to a 4-6 finish — its first losing season since 2009.

Earl Garcia (File)

Major milestone
Former Gaither High/Boca Ciega High and current Hillsborough High head coach Earl Garcia is one win away from tying former Chamberlain High coach Billy Turner as the all-time winningest coach in Tampa Bay history (254).

Garcia, who coached at Gaither from 1987 to 1991, has a career record of 253-103, including nine 10-win seasons.

Garcia was recently inducted into Gaither’s inaugural football Hall of Fame, joining Greg Callahan, Denny Haywood, Kenny Huebner, Terry Jordan, Chad Muilenberg, Cesar Paz, James Puckett and Lydell Ross.

Garcia at Gaither
1987 — Gaither (7-4)
1988 — Gaither (6-4)
1989 — Gaither (4-6)
1990 — Gaither (3-7)
1991 — Gaither (5-5)

Stat Stuffers
—Tony Bartalo, Gaither High, junior quarterback: Most efficient quarterback in the always tough District 8-7A, completing 72.4 percent of his throws for 627 yards and seven touchdowns.

Land O’ Lakes High senior tailback Kyle Leivas (File)

—Desmin Green, Pasco High, junior quarterback: One of the county’s most effective quarterbacks, completing 56 percent of his passes for 602 yards, and nine touchdowns and four interceptions; also has 227 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns

—Kyle Leivas, Land O’ Lakes High, senior tailback: County’s second leading rusher with 613 yards and four touchdowns on 84 carries; in total has 977 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns.

—Jalen Warren, Cypress Creek Middle High, junior receiver: County’s second leading receiver with 16 catches for 321 yards and five touchdowns.

Wiregrass Ranch High junior linebacker Dylan Ridolph (Courtesy of Wiregrass Ranch High School)

—Logan Kilburn, Steinbrenner High, senior linebacker: Second in the state with 70 total tackles; also has four sacks and eight tackles for loss.

—Dylan Ridolph, Wiregrass Ranch High, junior linebacker: Tied for state lead with 14 sacks; also has 44 total tackles and 21 tackles for loss.

Schools in Laker/Lutz News Coverage Area (and their current 2018 records)

Hillsborough County:
Carrollwood Day School Patriots (Class 2A-Region 3): 3-1 overall, 1-1 district

Freedom High School Patriots (Class 7A-Region 8): 1-4 overall, district 0-2

Gaither High School Cowboys (Class 7A-Region 8): 3-2 overall, 1-1 district

Steinbrenner High School Warriors (Class 8A-Region 6): 1-4 overall, 0-2 district

Pasco County:
Academy at the Lakes Wildcats (eight-man Florida Christian Region 2): 2-0 overall, 2-0 district

Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School Hurricanes (Independent-Sunshine State Athletic Conference (SSAC): 2-1, 2-0 district

Cypress Creek Middle High School Coyotes (Class 4A-Region 3): 2-3 overall, 0-0 district

Land O’ Lakes High School Gators (Class 6A-Region 6): 3-1 overall, 1-0 district

Pasco High School Pirates (Class 6A-Region 6): 2-2 overall, 0-0 district

Sunlake High School Seahawks (Class 6A-Region 6): 1-3 overall, 0-1 district

Wesley Chapel High School Wildcats (Class 5A-Region 8): 3-2 overall, 2-0 district

Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls (Class 7A-Region 8): 3-2 overall, 1-1 district

Zephyrhills High School Bulldogs (Class 5A-Region 8): 4-0 overall, 1-0 district

Zephyrhills Christian Academy Warriors (Class 2A-Region 2): 2-2 overall, 0-0 district

Published September 26, 2018

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