Gator Stadium will officially get its much-anticipated new moniker Friday as the facility will be re-named in honor of former Land O' Lakes High football coach John Benedetto during a dedication ceremony before the start of the game against rival Sunlake.
Benedetto, who left the program after taking part in the school board's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), is expected to be on hand for the dedication. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m.
Benedetto was the second varsity football coach in school history, getting the job in 1977 and retiring after the 2008 season. The Gators won 10 district titles and reached the state playoffs in 17 of Benedetto's 32 years at the helm, including the final 12.
Land O' Lakes had hoped to be in playoff contention this season as well, but dropped to 0-4 in district play last week and 1-5 overall. The Gators do have an opportunity to spoil the faint playoff hopes of Sunlake, however, which can't afford another district loss.
BISHOP MCLAUGHLIN: It'll be another game of former NFL players-turned-head coaches facing each other, as former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end, now Shorecrest Prep coach Dave Moore, and former Minnesota Vikings defensive end now Bishop McLaughlin coach Derrick Alexander will meet Friday night. Earlier this year, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback, now Northside Christian coach Mike Alstott faced Moore, a former teammate.
Moore, in his first season for the Chargers, has led Shorecrest to a 4-2 record with some impressive victories against Northside Christian (59-0), Calvary Christian (26-3), Bradenton St. Stephen's (29-14) and Seffner Christian (35-6).
Alexander also has led his Hurricanes to a 4-2 record, including four straight victories. Bishop McLaughlin must continue to play strong defense and keep a balanced offensive attack if it wants win No. 5.
ANCLOTE: Since helping start the Sharks program, coach Matt Wicks has preached to his team about earning a signature victory — one which Anclote wasn't expected to win.
Last Friday, Anclote got it. In a 21-7 victory at Zephyrhills, the Sharks (2-4, 2-2 Class 5A-6) received a pair of John Forgione-to-Keshaun Dampier touchdowns (23 and 85 yards) and a stellar defensive effort to remain in the hunt for the program's first playoff appearance. Maybe more importantly, Wicks said it was the second straight solid offensive/defensive effort his team has produced.
"That's where we'd been struggling," Wicks said. "We'd play well offensively, then make mistakes defensively. Or, we'd get a great effort from our defense, but struggle to move the ball. For us, it's always been about consistency. We always tell the kids to take it year by year so we can steadily build the program. … I think we're definitely headed in the right direction."
FIVAY: For the second year in a row, the Pasco-Fivay matchup could be very well called the "unofficial" Class 5A-District 6 championship game, as both teams are atop the district standings.
Fivay, with its lone loss to Spring Hill Springstead, is looking to upset the No. 4-ranked team in Class 5A. Falcons coach Chris Taylor pointed out that his team must keep tabs on Pasco DT Joey Ivie, which is much easier said than done.
"We know the next two games will determine our playoff future," Taylor said. "The kids know going in that Pasco is good, but we're hoping our experience is getting better. We're going to try and play our brand of football. We have to get a hat on that Ivie kid. They're very good, but we're not going to lay down for them."
HUDSON: Cobras QB Joey Caruso suffered what possibly could be a broken fibula against Pasco last Friday, according to Hudson coach Mark Kantor, and now the team will look toward senior Owen Derksen to step up Friday night against Wesley Chapel.
"We do have a backup quarterback, who's going to be able to step in and help us," Kantor said. "We don't know the severity of Caruso's injury right now. We're going to prepare Owen all this week to step in at quarterback."
Before his injury, Caruso had completed 28 of 62 passes for 266 yards with a TD, while Derksen has yet to complete or attempt a pass this season.
MITCHELL: Following an expected blowout victory against Brooksville Central last Friday, Mitchell (6-1, 3-1 Class 6A-6) began preparations for a three-game, regular-season ending stretch against teams tied or ahead of it in the district standings that will determine its playoff fate. The first test comes Friday against Nature Coast Tech (4-3, 3-1) and that's just as far as coach Scott Schmitz is willing to look at this point.
"We couldn't be in a more one-game-at-a-time mode," Schmitz said. "Our only focus is Nature Coast. We know we control our own fate to make the playoffs and you may be able to get in the playoffs with two district losses, but you won't be able to win it. We can't afford to have anyone thinking ahead, because just one loss will put us in a huge hole."
Mitchell finishes the season against current district co-leaders, traveling to Spring Hill Springstead (7-0, 4-0), before welcoming Hernando (4-3, 4-0).
PASCO: The Pirates have made a change the past two games, with junior quarterback Ben Chandler getting the nod over senior Jajuan Henry.
Chandler made his first start against Wesley Chapel, where he was 11-for-15 passing with 225 yards and two touchdown passes. Then in Pasco's 63-0 rout of Hudson, Chandler was only 4-for-6 with two touchdowns.
Coming into the season, Chandler was still a question mark on whether or not he could replace the record-breaking Jacob Guy, but did throw a 65-yard touchdown against Hernando in the preseason, however, also threw a late critical interception.
RIDGEWOOD: The Rams (1-6) had their best showing, posting a season-high 33 points in a loss to Wesley Chapel.
QB Will Fulmer threw for 163 yards and two touchdowns against a good Wildcats defense, but could also lose WR Tommy Kernan, who appeared to severely injure his ankle in the fourth quarter. Coach Jay Fulmer says Kernan is arguably the team's fastest player and was toying with the idea of the junior playing more tailback in the final three games.
"It's just devastating for us to lose Tommy," Fulmer added. "Tommy is a speed kid for us and we just don't have a lot of those guys for us. It swelled quick, so it should swell down quick, so in my years of coaching, that's a good sign."
RIVER RIDGE: The Royal Knights (1-5, 0-4 Class 6A-District 6) are coming off one of their best defensive performances of the season, albeit in a 21-7 loss to Spring Hill Springstead. River Ridge allowed 263 yards total offense in a game that was scoreless at halftime. Offense, however, has become a key problem for the Knights, as they have scored only four TDs in four district games.
The Knights should have a chance to improve those numbers Friday against Brooksville Central (1-6, 0-4), which is struggling. The Bears have allowed 41.3 points a game against the same four district teams River Ridge has played.
SUNLAKE: Though Sunlake's 14-10 loss to Brooksville Hernando last Friday doesn't technically knock the Seahawks out of the playoff picture, it's going to take a lot of help for Bill Browning's bunch to return to the 6A postseason.
The Seahawks (4-2) will take on neighborhood-rival Land O' Lakes, who lost to Brooksville Nature Coast 28-17 on the road. The Seahawks will need both Springstead and Hernando to lose twice in the final four weeks for a shot at a tiebreaker within the district.
Springstead and Hernando play each other this week, following up with the Eagles hosting Mitchell at home and the Sharks traveling to Nature Coast. A four-way tie could become a possibility in 6A-6.
WIREGRASS RANCH: It has been a disappointing season for the Bulls, who dropped to 0-6 with a 56-0 loss to Countryside on Friday. But OL John Coyne has been one of the bright spots and has received a scholarship offer as a result.
Coyne received a formal offer from Division I FCS Valparaiso last week, coach Jeremy Shobe said. Other schools that have shown interest, but yet to offer, are fellow-FCS school Drake, as well as Mercer and Stetson, which are starting new programs and will field teams in the FCS in 2013.
The Bulls face Chamberlain (2-4, 1-1 Class 7A-District 7) on Thursday.