Hold on ... catching my breath ... ribs sore, gut bruised, lungs heaving ... okay. Whew. I'm alright. Somehow, some way, I took a safe lead and fooled around. I rested on my laurels, content with that fact the new guy, that Thalji fella, could never catch the defending Times picks champ. Then I stumble to 7-7 week, and Thalji goes 12-2. What was once an nine-game cushion is now three (including Thursday's games). Three! Time to refocus. Whip out the game film. Secretly record a few practices, and return to the task at hand.
Dixie Hollins (4-1) at Largo (3-2)
LAST MEETING: Largo 45, Dixie Hollins 13 (2003).
THE SKINNY: According to our fuzzy math, everyone is technically alive in the Class 4A, District 9 race, but the inside track belongs to Largo, which is 2-0. The Packers should come in fairly angry after becoming the answer to a trivia question last week.
Cotey: Dixie Hollins Thalji: Largo
Clearwater Central Catholic (3-2) at St. Petersburg Catholic (3-1)
LAST MEETING: CCC 21, SPC 8 (2003).
THE SKINNY: CCC can't stop the run. SPC can't stop the run. Now, which team will commit to the run and take advantage? Both love to pass and boast the top two passing attacks in the county. Will it be too tempting?
Cotey: CCC Thalji: CCC
Boca Ciega (4-1) at Seminole (2-3)
LAST MEETING: Seminole 35, Boca Ciega 20 (2003).
THE SKINNY: Trying to figure out these playoff possibilities is making our heads hurt. Let's put it this way - we're pretty sure that Bogie clinches a playoff spot with a win tonight. In 5A-9, only the Pirates have shown any consistency (if you want to call consistency winning on last-second punt returns and broken plays in overtime).
Cotey: Seminole Thalji: Boca Ciega
Berkeley Prep (5-0) at Northside Christian (5-1)
LAST MEETING: Berkeley Prep 43, Northside 31 (2003).
THE SKINNY: The Bucs are averaging more than 30 points a game and have the district's best player in quarterback Derek Hatcher. But they face the district's best defense. Last year, the Bucs were the only team to tag Northside for more than 20 points.
Cotey: Berkeley Prep Thalji: Berkeley Prep
East Lake (1-4) at Pinellas Park (0-5)
LAST MEETING: East Lake 21, Pinellas Park 19 (2003).
THE SKINNY: Believe it or not, it's a 1-4 team vs. an 0-5 team in a game fraught with playoff fever! Welcome to the world of Class 5A, District 9. Both teams are 0-1, but the winner moves into a tie for second. East Lake has outscored the Patriots 90-14 and never lost to them in seven tries.
Cotey: East Lake Thalji: East Lake
Tarpon Springs (3-2) at Countryside (5-0)
LAST MEETING: Countryside 17, Tarpon Springs 10 (2003).
THE SKINNY: Everyone will be scoreboard watching tonight ... well, if the local high schools had scoreboards with all the other scores on it. As surprising as Tarpon has been this year, outscoring opponents 90-34, a loss all but sinks its postseason hopes. Countryside is 1-0 in 4A-9 and has to guard against looking ahead, with games at Dunedin and Largo the next two weeks.
Cotey: Countryside Thalji: Countryside
Palmetto (2-2) at Osceola (4-1)
LAST MEETING: Osceola 38, Palmetto 14 (2003).
THE SKINNY: The Warriors were the surprise team of 2003 ... and are the surprise team of 2004 as well. Not an easy double to pull off. With a win tonight, the Warriors will clinch a playoff spot. Osceola has won four straight, outscoring opponents 109-19 in that span.
Cotey: Osceola Thalji: Osceola
Dunedin (1-4) at Clearwater (3-2)
LAST MEETING: Dunedin 26, Clearwater 21 (2003).
THE SKINNY: A neighborhood rivalry and little else. Clearwater is just biding its time until the East Lake game in two weeks, when it can clinch a district title. Dunedin hopes for a miracle the next two weeks to get into the playoffs.
Cotey: Clearwater Thalji: Uh ... Dunedin
Shorecrest (2-3) at Admiral Farragut (0-5)
LAST MEETING: Shorecrest 33, Admiral Farragut 13 (2003).
THE SKINNY: Shorecrest snapped a three-game skid against Admiral Farragut last year and needs to make it a two-game win streak this year. If Northside loses tonight to Berkeley Prep and the Chargers win, next week's game between the rivals will have huge playoff implications.
Cotey: Shorecrest Thalji: Shorecrest
Temple Heights (1-4) at Calvary Christian (3-1)
LAST MEETING: Temple Heights 34, Calvary 13 (2003).
THE SKINNY: For what it's worth, Calvary has the best record of the six independent teams in the Tampa Bay area; Temple Heights is second to last.