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4A-6 DISTRICT PREVIEW: Defending champ faces tough road

If Central is to repeat, it must win on the road.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

If Central is to repeat, it must win on the road.

The Class 4A, District 6 championship rests with Central, but to defend the title in 2002 the Bears must travel to Land O'Lakes for a pivotal Oct. 17 clash.

Both teams were the district's playoff representatives last season -- district champion Central losing to New Smyrna Beach 40-6 and runner-up Land O'Lakes falling 7-6 to Ocala Forest.

The defending champions return Tim Gaynor to the backfield after a 1,769-yard, 19-touchdown performance in 2001. But new coach John Wilkinson wants a more balanced attack, with quarterback Joe Brazeau leading the new multiple offense behind a new offensive line.

If the Bears are to repeat as champions, they must win on the road in October. They visit Springstead on Oct. 4 and Land O'Lakes on the 17th. Central could earn a playoff spot by beating one of those foes and avoiding an upset by visiting Ridgewood, Mitchell and River Ridge at Bears Den Stadium.

Land O'Lakes returns virtually every skill-position player, led by 6-foot-3 star quarterback Drew Weatherford, who can run (184 yards, 4 touchdowns) or throw (111-of-124, 1,475 yards, 12 touchdowns) his way into the end zone. Wideout Logan Payne (306 yards, 5 touchdowns) and running back Chris Perez (363 yards, 4 touchdowns) rejoin him in the Gators' prolific spread offense.

The Gators face three potential letdowns: The Sept. 20 visit to Springstead comes right after a big Sunshine Athletic Conference clash with Zephyrhills; the Oct. 25 game at rival River Ridge is after the big Central clash; and the Nov. 1 game at Mitchell comes a week before the biggest game in Pasco County this season, the Nov. 8 season-ending brawl with Wesley Chapel, most likely for the SAC title.

Springstead is best armed to play the spoiler in this district race, hosting Central, Land O'Lakes and Ridgewood at Booster Stadium. The Eagles are coming off a five-game winning streak but are young and thin.

River Ridge may bring the district's biggest and best offensive line into the fray, with the lightest blocker coming in at 240 pounds. Jahmaal Osbourne and Chris Malone give the team a new dimension of speed in the offensive and defensive backfields.

Ridgewood has gone to the Power-I formation, a better way to utilize 6-4, 240-pound fullback and Georgia Tech recruit Adamm Oliver. Like Central's Wilkinson, new Rams coach Troy Cornwell will bring some new wrinkles to the race.

Mitchell's second-year varsity program returns a host of key, experienced players. Defense is the most improved, led by linebacker Derek Shortz and athletic, 6-1, 270-pound tackle Brandon Thomas.

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