With the 2018 prep football regular season coming to a close — and playoffs set to begin — here’s a look at some of the storylines and highlights from schools in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:
Zephyrhills notches perfect campaign
The 2018 campaign will be one to remember for the Zephyrhills Bulldogs.
They finished 10-0 and captured their second straight Class 5A, District 8 title — becoming the only public school in Pasco County to finish the regular season undefeated, and, marking the first time the program has had a perfect regular season since 1995.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs closed the year with a 49-0 shutout of the Pasco Pirates — the largest margin of victory in the long-standing 9-Mile War rivalry game that dates back to 1941.
Of course, the Bulldogs recent success is no fluke.
The program has posted eight straight winning seasons and five playoff appearances under its last two coaches, Nick Carroll and Reggie Roberts. Carroll is now 28-5 through his first three seasons as head coach. That includes 19 straight regular season wins dating back to last season.
Now Zephyrhills hopes for a deeper run in the playoffs than last season, when they lost an emotional 52-49 home contest to Green Cove Springs Clay in the Class 5A regional semifinals. They host Crystal River (8-2) on Friday in the Class 5A regional quarterfinals.
Gaither finishes strong to reach playoffs
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Gaither Cowboys were on the outside looking in to the Class 7A playoffs. But, a remarkable 21-20 win over Tampa Bay Tech in the regular season finale — as part of a three-game winning streak — propelled them to a No. 6 seed in the Class 7A, Region 2 bracket.
The win gives Gaither (7-3) some momentum in notching its second straight playoff berth, something the Cowboys will need this Friday against Plant (9-1) — a team they haven’t beaten in 10 contests, including a 44-34 loss back on Sept. 21.
But, don’t totally discount the Cowboys, who feature a balanced offensive attack and a dangerous pass rush to hang with many teams.
Land O’ Lakes thrives under new head coach
While the Land O’ Lakes Gators narrowly missed the playoffs, it was undoubtedly a successful season for first-year head coach Chad Walker.
The Gators (7-3) notched its first winning season since 2013.
And, they finally upended crosstown rival Sunlake in the annual Butter Bowl game — winning for the first time in the series since 2009.
The big question is whether Land O’ Lakes can maintain the newfound success after losing a large senior class that includes a bevy of contributors on offense and defense. Working in the team’s favor, however, is the expected return of junior quarterback Ethan Forrester, who posted a 51.6 completion percentage for 1,252 passing yards and 12 touchdowns (three interceptions).
Local private schools are playoff-bound
It’s been a solid year for private schools in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area, as Carrollwood Day School, Zephyrhills Christian, and Academy at the Lakes (eight-man) each qualified for the playoffs. Carrollwood Day (5-5) and Zephyrhills Christian (7-3) locked up No. 3 seeds in their respective Class 2A regions. Carrollwood Day is making its first playoff appearance since 2015, while Zephyrhills Christian is making its third straight postseason appearance.
Academy at the Lakes (6-0), meanwhile, with one regular season game remaining, has already secured the No. 1 seed in the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools (FCAPPS) eight-man playoffs. The defending FCAPPs state champions, Academy at the Lakes, is on a 15-game winning streak.
Farewell to longtime Sunlake coach
After 29 years as a high school football head coach in the North Suncoast, Sunlake’s Bill Browning is hanging up his headset and putting away his playbook. The longtime coach made the announcement over the weekend after the Seahawks wrapped up its second straight 4-6 campaign.
Browning built the Seahawks program from scratch in 2007, turning it into one of Pasco County’s most dominant programs across the last decade, with a string of seven straight winning seasons. Browning now retires as the seventh-most winningest coach in Pasco County history (73). Prior to Sunlake, Browning coached a combined 17 years for Springstead and Hernando high schools, racking up a combined 92 wins— second all-time among Hernando County coaches.
Browning at Sunlake
2015: 8-3 (district runner-up)
2014: 9-3 (district champion)
2013: 9-2 (district runner-up)
2011: 10-2 (district runner-up)
A look at some individual players who shined during the 2018 regular season
Doug Crawford, Zephyrhills, senior quarterback: Ranked among the region’s most efficient signal-callers, with a 72.3 completion percentage for 1,010 yards and 17 touchdowns (three interceptions).
Dylan Ridolph, Wiregrass Ranch, junior linebacker: Leads the state with 20 sacks, to go along with 77 total tackles and 30 tackles for loss.
Kyle Benedict, Carrollwood Day School, senior receiver: Extremely productive wideout tallied 42 catches for 742 yards and six touchdowns. Has over 116 career receptions for over 2,000 yards in four years on varsity.
Kyle Leivas, Land O’ Lakes, senior tailback: Posted 2,180 all-purpose yards and 17 total touchdowns. Also eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second time with 1,252 rushing yards on 6.8 yards per carry.
Kavbion Marbra, Zephyrhills Christian, athlete: Seven interceptions is tied for fourth-most in the state.
Nyhohn Moody, Zephyrhills Christian, senior linebacker: Tackling machine ranks fifth in the state with 132 stops. Also has six tackles for loss and a sack.
Schools in The Laker/Lutz News Coverage Area (and their 2018 regular season records)
Carrollwood Day School Patriots (Class 2A-Region 3): 5-5 overall, 2-2 district
Freedom High School Patriots (Class 7A-Region 8): 4-6 overall, district 2-4
Gaither High School Cowboys (Class 7A-Region 8): 7-3 overall, 4-2 district
Steinbrenner High School Warriors (Class 8A-Region 6): 5-5 overall, 4-2 district
Academy at the Lakes Wildcats (eight-man Florida Christian Region 2): 6-0 overall, 6-0 district (One regular season game remaining)
Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School Hurricanes (Independent-Sunshine State Athletic Conference (SSAC): 4-5, 4-1 district
Cypress Creek Middle High School Coyotes (Class 4A-Region 3): 3-7 overall, 1-0 district
Land O’ Lakes High School Gators (Class 6A-Region 6): 7-3 overall, 2-2 district
Pasco High School Pirates (Class 6A-Region 6): 2-8 overall, 0-4 district
Sunlake High School Seahawks (Class 6A-Region 6): 4-6 overall, 1-3 district
Wesley Chapel High School Wildcats (Class 5A-Region 8): 5-5 overall, 4-2 district
Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls (Class 7A-Region 8): 7-3 overall, 4-2 district
Zephyrhills High School Bulldogs (Class 5A-Region 8): 10-0 overall, 6-0 district
Zephyrhills Christian Academy Warriors (Class 2A-Region 2): 7-3 overall, 1-0 district
Region 2 Quarterfinals
No. 6 Gaither (7-3) at No. 3 Plant (9-1)
No. 8 Wiregrass Ranch (7-3) at No. 1 Lakeland (10-0)
Region 2 Quarterfinals
No. 7 Crystal River (8-2) at No. 2 Zephyrhills (10-0)
Region 2 Quarterfinals
No. 6 St. Francis Catholic Gainesville (4-5) at No. 3 Zephyrhills Christian (7-3)
Region 3 Quarterfinals
No. 6 Southwest Florida Christian (2-8) at No. 3 Carrollwood Day School (5-5)
Published November 7, 2018