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Rivals preparing for district opener

By RICK GERSHMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001


On paper, no one ever saw Gaither football team opening this season 2-0 -- or Chamberlain starting 0-2.

You know the saying: That's why they play the game.

On paper, then, new Gaither coach Bob Gries should earn his first district victory over visiting Chamberlain tonight at 7:30.

But hey, that's why they play the game. And what a game it should be: These teams are historic rivals, and this is the Class 5A, District 6 opener for both.

When it comes to qualifying for the post-season, district games are virtually all that matter. All six north Tampa teams play district contests tonight. Except for Sickles, which dropped an atypical Week 1 district contest to powerhouse Jefferson, they're all starting with a clean slate.

That's good news for Chamberlain, which has fallen a bit shy for two straight weeks. The Chiefs lost their two games by a total of eight points.

Gaither, meanwhile, edged Plant City by just two points after a season-opening rout of Tampa Bay Tech. The Cowboys were not sharp, but they benefited massively from Raiders miscues that ranged from muffed punts to turnovers to failed conversions. Gaither need to be back on its game to win a shootout against the Chiefs.

In other games: Wharton, 2-0 for the first time, kicks off district play against first-year Alonso, Sickles faces visiting Brandon, and struggling Leto hopes to dethrone King.

CHAMBERLAIN CHIEFS (0-2 overall, 0-0 in Class 5A, District 6) at GAITHER COWBOYS (2-0, 0-0)

LAST YEAR: Gaither won the season closer 14-9.

LAST WEEK: Chamberlain fell 38-35 to Riverview; Gaither edged Plant City 14-12.

THE LOWDOWN: After handily winning his first game, Gries criticized naysayers who picked against his Cowboys. He had better be ready to grumble again, because winless Chamberlain appears primed to steal this district opener. True, the Chiefs' defense has been shaky, but Chamberlain's Donnie Davis and Eddie Ivery are game-breakers. Davis, a freshman speedster, had an 81-yard rush and an 84-yard kick return for TDs last week; Ivery added an 84-yard TD carry of his own. Gaither had a big drop-off in beating the Raiders, as its offense averaged just three yards per carry. Its defense, while mostly solid, got burned on a few big plays.

THE EDGE: Upset special -- Chamberlain's ground game wins the day.

ALONSO RAVENS (0-2 overall, 0-0 in 5A-6) at WHARTON WILDCATS (2-0, 0-0)

LAST WEEK: Alonso lost 34-0 to Sickles; Wharton beat Brandon 9-3.

THE LOWDOWN: Alonso actually is the home team of record in this district opener, but the first-year Ravens do not have a stadium. The Wildcats, enjoying the best start in their five-year school history, plan to feast on these birdies. Against Brandon, Wharton had trouble with penalties (13 for 100 yards), but turned over the ball just once. The Wildcats' defense also has been strong, allowing just 8 points per game. Alonso has yet to score a point, but that's on pace for a first-year team playing a varsity schedule.

THE EDGE: Wharton breaks another record, making it 3-0.

SICKLES GRYPHONS (1-1 overall, 0-1 in 4A-8) vs. BRANDON EAGLES (0-2, 0-0)

LAST YEAR: Did not play.

LAST WEEK: Sickles defeated Alonso 34-0; Brandon fell to Wharton 9-3.

THE LOWDOWN: No fair gauging Sickles from last week's win, since Alonso, like all first-year teams, isn't nearly able to compete. So we go back to Week One, when Sickles lost 47-0 to Jefferson. That's not much better, since Jefferson is ridiculously deep in talent and already is a favorite to win a state title. Then again, Jefferson beat perennial power Armwood 63-0 last week, so that does -- sort of -- speak well for the Gryphons. Wharton's high-flying defense made Brandon look far worse than it really is, though the Eagles truly have no passing attack and are error-prone. However, Brandon does have some real talent in a few places.

THE EDGE: Sickles remains an enigma, so the edge goes to Brandon.

LETO FALCONS (0-2 overall, 0-0 in 5A-6) vs. KING LIONS (1-1, 0-0)

LAST YEAR: King won 27-7.

LAST WEEK: Leto lost 14-0 to East Bay; King fell 20-19 to Tampa Bay Tech in OT.

THE LOWDOWN: Hopefully, Leto coach Andy Martin is taking good care of his heart. Last week, his Falcons got inside the East Bay 25-yard-line five times, got inside the 10 three times -- and came away empty. They turned the ball over on three of those drives and failed to earn first downs the other two. Though mistake-prone, this team showed some ability: Senior LB Kenny Robinson had 11 tackles, and junior QB Joey Bailey showed potential. This is an off year for King, but the Lions have a game-breaker in sophomore RB Raymond Neal. Against Tech, Neal rushed for 110 yards and two TDs and added another score on a 95-yard kickoff return.

THE EDGE: King gets the nod, but Leto should put up its best challenge yet.

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