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Painting the playoff picture

Two key games put four Pinellas County teams in make-or-break scenarios.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
Published October 28, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Boca Ciega coach Jean Gordon knows his Pirates have talent, heart and the ability to win games.

What he doesn't know is how they'll react tonight, when they face their toughest opponent of the season.

Pressure.

It is the most brutal opposition an athlete can face. Strong enough to make even the toughest player cry, imposing enough to make even the strongest player wilt, and suffocating enough to make even the smartest player turn in a performance he'll want to forget forever.

"This is totally new for this group," Gordon said. "To be completely honest with you, I don't know how they will react. But they have two choices - rise to the top, or crumble."

Bradenton Bayshore will try to make sure it's the latter when they visit St. Petersburg to determine the runner-up in Class 4A, District 9. Both teams are 3-1 in the district behind unbeaten Bradenton Southeast.

The Pirates (6-2) will be without running back and linebacker Clifford Smith, who has been suspended. While Smith may be the Pirates' most talented player, Bogie still has the tandem of Andre Leshore and Josh Bellamy, who combined for 300 yards rushing and four touchdowns in last week's win over Northeast.

They will also have to contend with an option attack, which they haven't seen this season, and Bayshore fullback and linebacker Derek Bishop.

But Gordon has known this game was coming. He quickly dismissed a loss to Southeast, pointing to last week's game against Northeast and this week's as the crucial must-wins.

Forgetting getting into the playoffs.

"This is the playoffs," Gordon said. "My mentality has always been these games were playoff games, because they are do or die. If you lose, you're done. If you win, you get to move on."

Bogie-Bayshore is just one of many games being played tonight in Pinellas County with playoff implications, but one of only two featuring do-or-die situations.

The other game features Palm Harbor U. and Dunedin. Though the Hurricanes are only 2-6, they are 1-2 in Class 5A, District 9. Dunedin is 2-1. But a PHU win will make both teams 2-2, with the Hurricanes winning the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Hurricanes, under first-year coach Dustin Bengston, beat East Lake last week to knock out the Eagles behind a freshman quarterback (Anthony Diaz) and sophomore running back (Dajuan Bush).

Dunedin, which needed a Quint Sequintus interception in the final seconds to hold off Clearwater, is a more experienced team with one of the county's best defenses and strongest offensive lines.

But scoring - just 35 points the last four weeks - has been an issue that the Falcons will have to correct to make the playoffs after a 2-8 season in 2004.

In 5A-11, Largo can clinch the title against Pinellas Park, and Dixie Hollins can clinch the runner-up spot by beating Gibbs.

However, a number of scenarios can play out where Gibbs and St. Petersburg make the playoffs, possibly by winning a three-way tiebreaker on Monday.

Clearwater Central Catholic's game with Sarasota Cardinal Mooney tonight determines the district winner and runner-up in 2B-6 (both teams already clinched playoff berths).

In 1B-6 Keswick can lock up second provided Lakeland Evangel beats Lakeland Santa Fe as expected to clinch the title.

If Santa Fe wins, a three-way tiebreaker will be needed to sort it out.

St. Petersburg Catholic (2A-5) and Tarpon Springs (4A-8) already have clinched district championships, while Shorecrest is assured of a postseason berth as a runner-up in A-5.

[Last modified October 28, 2005, 01:35:22]


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