GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 12 Miami Norland (Miami, Fla.) 11-0 at No. 39 Glades Central (Belle Glade, Fla.) 12-0, Friday at Effie C. Grear Field
This is a postseason matchup that many South Florida observers have been waiting for all season.
The Class 5A regional final showdown pits two unbeaten, FAB 50-ranked powers, both of which field top-flight individual talent. Both teams are hungry for state crowns after falling short in their respective 2010 title games.
Norland, which has been ranked in the FAB 50 since the preseason, is seeking the state title that eluded it last season when Jefferson (Tampa, Fla.) prevailed 44-34 in the Class 3A finale. The Vikings are led by 5-foot-9, 174-pound senior tailback Randy (Duke) Johnson. The University of Miami recruit has rushed 134 times for 1,352 yards and 19 scores this season.
Meanwhile, Glades Central, which was a 14-13 victim of unbeaten Cocoa (Fla.) in last season's Class 2A finals, has wreaked havoc on its 12 foes this year. The Raiders have outscored teams 515-74 with shutouts their last three games. Their offense includes senior wide receiver Jamie Wilson and 5-10, 170-pound junior running back Will Likely. Wilson has landed 50 passes for 867 yards and 20 scores, while Likely has rushed for 685 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 31 passes for 556 yards and six scores.
The outcome of this game will have a big impact on next week’s FAB 50 since the winner could go on to being an undefeated state champion.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Zack Blaylock, Walton (Marietta, Ga.)
While running back Tyren Joneshas been the offensive catalyst for the 13-0 Raiders, who zoomed up to No. 28 in this week’s FAB 50, Blaylock has been one of the team’s top defenders and looks like a cinch to be an all-state pick.
In last week’s 21-13 win over Dacula (Dacula, Ga.) in the Class 5A playoffs, Blaylock intercepted a pair of passes, upping his season total to 10. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound free safety also was in on seven tackles and broke the game open on offense in the fourth quarter by scoring on a 95-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Parker McLeod.
Blaylock is the son of former NBA point guard Mookie Blaylock and plays alongside his twin brother, Daron, in the Walton secondary. Both Blaylock brothers have committed to Kentucky.
If Walton can get past Cobb County rival Lassiter (Marietta, Ga.) in Friday’s semifinals, that could set up a fantastic 14-0 vs. 14-0 state championship on Dec. 10 against FAB 50 No. 4 Grayson (Loganville, Ga.). Grayson plays Colquitt County (Moultrie, Ga.) in this weekend’s other Class 5A semifinal.
Prattville (Prattville, Ala.) 11-2 vs. No. 35 Hoover (Hoover, Ala.) 13-1, Friday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Two familiar foes and Alabama's top two preseason-ranked teams square off for the Class 6A state championship.
Entering the season, Prattville (11-2) was ranked No. 13 in the FAB 50, while Hoover (13-1) was No. 35. The Lions dropped their opening game to defending FAB 50 national champion St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) 34-31 and later was upset by Opelika (Opelika, Ala.) 16-14 to fall out of the national rankings.
Hoover, meanwhile, has suffered only a 17-9 loss to Birmingham-area rival Mountain Brook (Ala.) 17-9. While the Bucs have struggled somewhat in recent games, the Lions have dominated foes with wins of 45-12, 38-0, 56-14 and 52-13 sandwiched around a 13-3 playoff win to knock defending champion Daphne (Daphne, Ala.) out of contention. Hoover's last three playoff wins have been 32-22, 21-14 and 26-17. Last season, Hoover lost the title game to Daphne 7-6.
In 2009, Hoover, which has played in 11 title games the last 12 years, defeated Prattville 28-23 in the championship game. The two teams don't meet in the regular season but have split four title games since 2004. The two schools do compete regularly in junior varsity games and in seven-on-seven competitions, so they are familiar with each other.
With Prattville coming on strong since the two setbacks, don't be surprised if it’s the Lions hoisting the title trophy this weekend.
Upset Alerts So Far This Season: 6-7
TEAM ON THE RISE?
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Remember these guys? The FAB 50 national champs from last year and 2008 were riding high earlier this season after wins over Prattville (Prattville, Ala.) and current California No. 1 De La Salle (Concord, Calif.). Then came a loss to current FAB 50 No. 6 Miramar (Miramar, Fla.) followed by another one shortly afterward to Cooper City (Cooper City, Fla.).
But the banged-up Raiders (10-2), who have lost senior defensive end Jelani Hamilton and some other players to injury, may be on the way back. They played Cooper City again last week in the Class 7A state playoffs and avenged the earlier loss with a 27-10 triumph. Fred Coppet rushed for 140 yards on 23 carries and scored twice as St. Thomas Aquinas rallied from a 3-0 halftime deficit.
With one of the losses now avenged, the Raiders will be looking to move into next week’s Class 7A state semifinals with a win Friday against Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.). They could play FAB 50 No. 16 Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.) in that game, and another win there would probably get them back up into the national rankings. Even with two losses on their record at the end of the season, the Raiders could still climb all the way back to near the top 10. After all, those two teams they beat earlier in the season could be state champions too.