Midseason football report

The playmakers, the men behind the top teams, endings that wowed us, games to circle on calendars and the performances no one expected. We've got them all.

By Times Staff
Published September 23, 2006

Top Five Upcoming Games

1. East Lake at Dunedin, Sept. 29: Expect a low-scoring, defensive struggle between two that will be in the hunt for a playoff berth.

2. Lakeland Victory Christian at Keswick Christian, Oct. 6: This is the biggest game on the Crusaders' schedule. If Keswick beats the Class A defending state champ, it could do some damage in the postseason.

3. Dunedin at Countryside, Oct. 13: Both teams reserve special venom for this one. But there's more than bragging rights in this rivalry game. Both are in Class 5A, District 9 and the outcome will likely determine who makes the playoffs.

4. Northeast at Osceola, Oct. 27: Both teams have knocked off district opponents from Manatee County, so this one could mean a lot down the stretch.

5. Shorecrest at Northside, Oct. 27: Fort Meade will win the district title. That means these two small-school powers will be battling for a runnerup spot.

- JOE SMITH, BOB PUTNAM, Times staff writers

Top Five Surprises

1. Northeast beating Southeast: Jerry Austin, in his 28th season, has his banged-up Vikings off to a 3-1 start, including a monumental 14-9 win over Bradenton Southeast on Sept. 15. Before that game, Southeast had lost just twice to Pinellas County teams in 18 seasons.

2. St. Petersburg Catholic's slow start: Before the Barons were banned from the postseason by the FHSAA, they had state title dreams dancing in their heads. But SPC is now 1-4, still trying to jell as a team.

3. East Lake's defense: We knew the Eagles were good. But we didn't know they were that good. East Lake has forced 12 turnovers in four games, a big reason the team is 4-1 heading into the meat of its district schedule.

4. Gibbs: The Gladiators, coming off a 5-5 season, opened the season in a new stadium, but are 0-4. The losses have been tough, a double-overtime thriller against Bogie on Thursday and a heart-breaking loss to St. Petersburg the week before, when the Gladiators blew a 17-0 lead. The road doesn't get any easier for Gibbs, as the next few games include matchups with Largo (4-0) and at Dunedin (3-1).

5. Boca Ciega: Under first-year coach Stevie Thomas, the Pirates have been the county's Cardiac Kids. Boca Ciega (3-2) beat rival Lakewood last week by scoring eight points in the final minute, then outlasted Gibbs on Thursday night in double overtime.

Top Five Coaching Jobs

1. Palm Harbor University: The Hurricanes were struck by tragedy this offseason, when former coach Mike June and former player Danny Shea passed away. Palm Harbor U. coach Pete Just has pulled the team together, lifting it to a 3-2 start. Especially for a team that won 10 games the previous four seasons, that's a remarkable accomplishment.

2. Largo: Largo coach Rick Rodriguez lost his Mr. Everything back Dexter McCluster (Mississippi), a 2,000-yard rusher and unquestioned team leader, to graduation. But the Packers haven't lost an edge - or a game - relying on a three-back attack and the versatile quarterback Leonard Johnson for a 4-0 start.

3. Northeast: The Vikings have overcome plenty of injuries to start 4-1 in what could be Jerry Austin's final season as head coach.

4. Countryside: John Davis has led the Cougars to a 5-0 start, helped by quarterback L.D. Crow and a stingy defense. Countryside has given up just 14 points in the past three weeks, including a shutout on Thursday over Dixie Hollins, which had beaten the Cougars in last year's playoffs.

5. Clearwater Central Catholic: The Marauders had a metaphorical yard sale in the offseason, losing lineman Kevin Young (South Carolina), receiver Riley Cooper (Florida), tailback Ronnie Harris (Jacksonville) and tight end Colin McCarthy (Miami). Then quarterback Andrew Nowels transferred to Lakeland. But Mike Jalazo and CCC have risen above it, going 3-2 so far.

Top Five Finishes

1. Bogie's bomb: Boca Ciega junior quarterback Orhian Johnson's 35-yard touchdown pass to Sherard Allen with 32 seconds to go against Lakewood on Sept. 15 capped a thrilling, come-from-behind 15-12 victory. On the play, Johnson stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and, throwing on the run, hit Sherard in stride in the left corner of the end zone.

2. The stand: Also on Sept. 15, Seminole held off Pinellas Park 20-14 with a stunning goal-line stand with 20 seconds to go to earn its first victory.

3. The timeout: With the St. Petersburg Catholic-Jesuit game on Sept. 8 tied at 29 with five seconds left, overtime seemed inevitable. But Jesuit, on SPC's 3-yard line with the clock running and no timeouts, was saved when an SPC player inexplicably called a timeout. Jesuit's Adam Perhosky came in, nailing a 20-yard field goal for the win.

4. The pick: Dunedin senior cornerback Matt Gilghrest saved the day on opening night against Seminole. With the Falcons clinging to a three-point lead with two minutes left, Gilghrest intercepted a pass and returned it to Seminole's 5, where the Falcons punched it in for a 17-7 win.

5. Johnny-on-the-spot: Northeast's Antwan Carson broke a 14-14 tie midway through the fourth quarter against Dixie Hollins on Sept. 1 when he scooped up a fumble and rumbled 73 yards for the winning score.

Top Five Players

1. Brynn Harvey, Largo: Largo's workhorse has beaten up opposing defense this season, rushing for more than 500 yards in the Packers' 4-0 start. Harvey, a 5-11, 205-pound slasher, racked up a career-high 231 yards on 11 carries against Dixie Hollins last week.

2. Jeff Brinson, Northeast: The junior has carried defenders places they never imagined they would go, usually the end zone. Brinson has rushed for more than 500 yards and scored six touchdowns.

3. Jared DiMaggio, Keswick Christian: The 5-foot-8, 170-pound DiMaggio is a runner, who, despite his skatback size, displays as much punch as pizzazz. He has rushed for nearly 600 yards and helped the Crusaders to a 5-0 start.

4. Matt Gilghrest, Dunedin: The senior defensive back missed last year with a back injury. In each of Dunedin's first two victories this year, the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder picked up an interception and a touchdown reception.

5. L.D. Crow, Countryside: The Stanford-bound quarterback has thrown for nearly 700 yards and is piloting an offense that is averaging 34 points per game.