GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 36 Plant (Tampa, Fla.) 7-0 at No. 2 Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) 8-0, 7:30 p.m., Friday
The visiting Panthers know all too well how hard it can be to score against Armwood’s quick, hard-hitting defense. When the two teams played last year, the Hawks posted a 17-0 shutout and looked like they would roll to a Class 4A state title until they were upset in the final by Lincoln (Tallahassee, Fla.).
Armwood, which opened the season by winning a FAB 50 showdown 20-17 at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), went on a streak of four straight shutouts that ended with last week’s 38-16 victory against Hillsborough (Tampa, Fla).
When we saw them play in Vegas, the scary aspect of their win was that it came without Florida-bound running back Matt Jones (who was out with an injury at the time) and that it marked the first start for junior quarterback Darryl Richardson. Since then, versatile junior Alvin Bailey, a highly-touted wide receiver prospect, has played a lot more snaps at quarterback and Jones has come back. In last week’s win, Jones rushed for 205 yards and one touchdown.
Plant comes into the game with heavy hearts due to the death last weekend of popular teacher Nancy Farnsworth from a car accident. The team will wear helmet stickers honoring her memory.
So far this season, the Panthers have maintained their offensive prowess with senior quarterback James Few and junior running back Wesley Bullock. Few has completed 73 of 114 passes for 1,311 yards and 14 touchdowns while Bullock has rushed for 403 yards and four scores. Plant clinched its seventh straight district title last week with a 48-6 triumph over Alonso (Tampa, Fla.).
Armwood is looking to maintain its No. 2 ranking in the FAB 50 and could begin to push No. 1 Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) with an impressive win. A win by Plant could vault the Panthers all the way up into the top 15.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Robert Nkemdiche, Grayson (Loganville, Ga.)
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior defensive lineman isn't putting up the big numbers he did as an all-state selection his sophomore season. The big-time major college Class of 2013 prospect, however, is anchoring a stingy Rams' defense that held its first eight opponents to an average of 26 rushing yards per game.
Last season, Nkemdiche recorded an eye-opening 18 sacks and 23 tackles for losses. This year, he still leads the team in sacks but only has five. Still, the Rams have moved up the FAB 50 national ranking charts to No. 11 and Nkemdiche is a major reason for that.
"Opponents need two players to block Robert," coach Mickey Conn says, "and that allows other defenders to make plays. But he can explode at any time."
Friday would be a good time for that to happen since the Rams play host to region rival and defending Class AAAAA state champion Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.).
Westfield (Chantilly, Va.) 8-0 at No. 46 Centreville (Clifton, Va.) 8-0, 7:30 p.m., Friday
Centreville may be in the FAB 50, but Westfield certainly isn’t far behind. In the East Region Top 20, the Wildcats are No. 7 with the Bulldogs checking in at No. 18.
Centreville has scored at least 38 points in the last seven games to cement its status as one of the best teams in Virginia but also the Washington D.C. area. Senior quarterback Mitch Ferrick and junior running back Marcel Smith give the Wildcats a lot of balance on offense, while the defense features top college prospect Ken Ekanem (6-3, 230) at defensive end.
Westfield’s winning scores have almost been as impressive as Centreville’s with a defense that has two shutouts and three other games in which just one touchdown was allowed. The Bulldogs also have an effective rushing attack with senior Kendell Anderson. He had 247 yards and five touchdowns in last week’s win against Oakton (Oakton, Va.) and is working on a streak of seven straight 100-yard games.
Upset Alerts so far this season: 3-5
TEAM ON THE RISE?
McGill-Toolen (Mobile, Ala.) 8-0
When the unbeaten Yellowjackets upset defending Class 6A state champion Daphne (Daphne, Ala.) last week and knocked the Trojans out of the FAB 50, it didn't surprise some state observers. That's because the first-year McGill-Toolen head coach is Bart Sessions, who served as defensive coordinator last season at Daphne. That gave the 38-year-old Sessions three straight state title rings after serving in the same position the previous two years for state titlist Prattville (Prattville, Ala.).
In his first season as a head coach at McGill-Toolen, Sessions has guided the balanced Yellowjackets to nine straight wins and a No. 20 spot in the Southeast Region rankings. This weekend, the 'Jackets will cap the regular season at area rival Murphy (Mobile, Ala.) before entering post-season play.
If Sessions continues his coaching magic and title game streak, it will be the farthest McGill-Toolen has advanced since the 2007 squad finished a 13-1 record with a loss in the semifinals to Prattville.