TAMPA - When it comes to the state playoffs, Chamberlain's football team is a regular visitor. But despite six straight playoff appearances, not much was expected of the Chiefs in 2005. The Chiefs had just three returning starters, little experience or size on the defensive line, and a dire need at the running back position.
But when the state playoffs kick off tonight, the Chiefs will be there, hosting a home game against Land O'Lakes. Chamberlain coach Billy Turner, in his 26th year at the school, may have done his best job this year.
"We had 19 starters graduate," Turner said. "We just wanted to come in and play well and try to compete in this district. We haven't had a passing game or a great offense and no kicking game. We just wanted to win."
Help did arrive early in the season in the form of transfer running back Kylin Robinson, who managed to win the county rushing title in just seven games. Robinson, who rushed for more than 400 yards in one game and 205 in another, finished the season with more than 1,400 yards.
"There's not a better back in the area," Turner said of Robinson. "Using two tight ends is a big part of our running game but he (Kylin) does a lot of it own his own."
As good as Robinson has been, Turner also convinced his defense to play lights-out defense and got just enough contribution from the passing game to help the Chiefs to a 7-3 record and an unblemished 3-0 mark in Class 5A, District 6.
"You have to play with what you got," said Turner. "You let the offense play and try and get the defense to stop the other team. We've played some good teams and we've had to battle."
Tonight starts a whole new battle as the Land O'Lakes Gators visit the Chiefs. In other playoff games with area teams, Wharton will host Alonso while Jefferson travels to Bradenton Southeast. All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
CLASS 5A, REGION II
ALONSO (5-5) at WHARTON (9-1)
Last Year: Alonso is returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2003, when it lost in the Class 5A opening round. Wharton is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, when it was the Class 5A state runnerup.
The Skinny: Alonso has lost four of its last five games to close the season - twice getting shut out during that streak. Wharton, meanwhile, returned to prominence this year under new head coach and former longtime assistant David Mitchell. A solid offense featuring quarterback Chris Krcmar and running back Joel Miller is the strength of the Wharton Wildcats' attack.
The Edge: The Wildcats may be nearing their 2002 form. The Ravens will find that out quickly tonight.
CLASS 5A, REGION II
LAND O'LAKES (9-1) at CHAMBERLAIN (7-3)
Last Year: Land O'Lakes lost in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs last year while Chamberlain was eliminated in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs a season ago.
The Skinny: Led by quarterback Joe Weatherford and wide receiver Develin Robinson, the Gators' offense has been outstanding. In fact, only a one-point loss kept Land O'Lakes from going undefeated in the regular season. Chamberlain's running game (Kylin Robinson) has been nearly unstoppable at times this season.
The Edge: If either one of these teams can play defense, it'll be moving on to the next round. Most likely Land O'Lakes.
CLASS 4A, REGION III
JEFFERSON (7-3) at BRADENTON SOUTHEAST (8-2)
Last Year: Jefferson was the state's Class 3A runnerup in 2004. Bradenton Southeast lost in the Class 3A region semifinals last year.
The Skinny: Jefferson's prolific offense came up short in the season finale against Plant, costing the Dragons the district title and sending them on the road to start the playoffs. Still, Jefferson quarterback Stephen Garcia is a potent weapon.
The Edge: Jefferson can score plenty of points but it may not be able to slow Southeast. The homefield advantage will benefit Southeast in a close contest.