By Times staff writer
OCALA VANGUARD (6-4) AT LAND O'LAKES (10-0)
RECORD VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS: Vanguard is 1-4, losing by an average of 19.3 points then losing the Class 3A, District 4 shootout. Land O'Lakes is 5-0 against Pasco County playoff foes.
SCOUTING OCALA VANGUARD: The unlucky Knights lost returning 1,500-yard rusher Brandon Crews in the first game and 1,000-yard passer Robin Williams in the last. Defensive back Ronnie Samuel is the emergency quarterback, but Vanguard doesn't throw much anyway. It relies on a massive offensive line that averages 6 feet 3, 260 pounds and has turned 5-9, 176-pound sophomore Roosevelt Ross (1,164 yards, seven touchdowns) into a capable back. The defense is solid. Senior middle linebacker Courtney Bright (104 tackles) leads the 50-defense. Lineman Cliff Barnes (45 tackles, two sacks) is the run-stuffer, and cornerback John Nell Cox (46 tackles, one interception) is a good cover man.
SCOUTING LAND O'LAKES: The Gators have won big, won close, won on offense and won on defense. It starts with the state's No.1 passing combo, quarterback Drew Weatherford (133-of-193, 2,255 yards, 33 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) and split end Logan Payne (1,081 yards, 19 touchdowns). They average 17.4 yards per completion, and six of Weatherford's receivers have more than 100 yards. But the Gators, No.9 in the Class 4A state poll, can't run without the pass, though Eddie Gibbs (595 yards, 7 touchdowns) has been solid. The offensive line, led by tackle Joey Tuttle (6-3, 235) and center Bobby O'Dell (6-4, 300), are steamrollers. Tuttle is a monster on defense, too, with a team-high 12 sacks. He leads an underpublicized but stout unit that shut down Wesley Chapel's athletic Wing-T.
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RIDGEWOOD (6-4) AT BELLEVIEW (7-3)
RECORD VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS: The Diamondback Rattlers are 3-3, beating Citra North Marion 21-10, Ocala West Port 42-7 and Ocala Vanguard 41-14. The Rams are 1-4 against Pasco County playoff teams, beating Mitchell 31-17.
SCOUTING RIDGEWOOD: The Rams win with ball control, solid defense and a confidence that belies the program's history. Of course, when you have 6-4, 240-pound Adamm Oliver (1,154, 15 touchdowns) running the ball, controlling the clock is a lot easier. But Ridgewood can mix it up, spreading Sean Jester around (1,200-yard total yards, 13 total touchdowns) and coming up with big plays when he's in space. But the key could be a healthy offensive line, together for just the second week this season. The Rattlers better find a way to block Oliver (109 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 blocked punts).
SCOUTING BELLEVIEW: This team is a carbon copy of Ridgewood, but the edge in talent and strength of schedule goes to Belleview. The Rattlers like to pound the ball out of the I-formation with 5-5, 165-pound Chris Ginyard (1,093 yards, 11 touchdowns), and fullback Jordan Abbott (6-3, 215 pounds) is his
plow horse. But the team is learning to pass with Matt Leone (57-of-112, 1,051 yards, 11 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) and sure-handed receiver John Ivory (701 yards, 7 touchdowns), who has made some big grabs this year. Cody Wells, the 6-1, 185-pound free safety, is a Division I-A prospect and leads a physical 4-3 defense with 111 tackles. But the Rattlers are hot, having won five in a row and scoring 40-plus points in four of those victories.
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MITCHELL (4-6) AT MELBOURNE PALM BAY (8-2)
RECORD VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS: The Pirates are 2-2, but the losses came in their first two games, against Orlando Edgewater (17-10 in overtime) and Miami Carol City (20-19), both 6A schools. Mitchell, however, is 0-5 against county playoff teams, allowing 31 points a loss.
SCOUTING MITCHELL: The Mustangs have 24 seniors but are young in the backfield, with 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore quarterback Spencer Brown and 5-7, 150-pound freshman tailback D.J. Crosby making just their fifth start this season. But both bring speed and athleticism to the positions that wasn't previously there. The key just might be to grind it out with fullbacks Rob Metz and Ricky Moise. They will need to control the ball and the clock and keep Palm Bay's athletic offense off the field. The offense probably will have to bail out a troubled defense that has given up 22.9 points a game. And they have never seen speed such as this.
SCOUTING MELBOURNE PALM BAY: The Pirates are No.6 in the 4A poll, but that's under-rating this team. It is rich with gifted, speedy athletes -- three players in the Rivals.com top 100 recruiting list -- who score on big play after big play. The multiple-formation offense can spread four wideouts and have Andrew Hornung (60-of-102, 1,379 yards, 12 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) gun it or run it with Rivals.com's No.2-ranked player in the state, 6-3, 240-pound fullback Joe Cohen (803 yards, 12 touchdowns, 8.9 yards per carry) out of the Power-I. The 50-defense is just as good. Weakside linebacker Reggie Nelson leads the unit with 156 tackles. End Kniefe Moffett leads with 12 sacks. But as good as Palm Bay is -- scoring 60 three times -- its past five blowout victories are against teams a combined 9-41.
-- Compiled by Jamal Thalji.
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