This is it, folks.
It's the final official week of the high school football season. It's the week that all the teams were talking about all the way back in May. It's the week that the players spent many nights dreaming about.
It's state championship week.
The teams that are left standing at this point are the ones who were making consistent deposits of dedication, hard work and sacrifice. That's the only way you can afford a ring – you have to put those three things in the bank. You don't want to come up with insufficient funds.
Looking back on it, this season has been quite the doozy. It didn't always go "the way we thought it would", which made for some awesome Thursday. Friday and Saturday nights.
Although the journey went down a slightly different path, the destination remained the same. South Florida still showed itself to be the high school football capital of the world.
Six teams from Miami-Dade and Broward Counties – three from each – are making the trip to Orlando punctuate their respective seasons with one more big win.
There were a lot of singular things to highlight as keys to victory over the first four weeks of the postseason: focus, execution, attention to small details. Now, with just one game left, the trait that all of the teams will need to exhibit this weekend is "fortitude".
Strength, courage, resilience, grit, stamina, determination – all sum up fortitude. Playing with an "all-out" state of mind, being able to walk off the field knowing without any hesitation that there's nothing left to give.
Our teams have to play with fortitude.
As usual, I'll tell the tell the seniors getting ready to play their final high school football game: take in the moments. Enjoy the bus ride up. Pay attention to everything your coaches tell you pre-game. Savor getting dressed and putting on your pads. Say something motivational to each one of your teammates. Feel all the excitement of running out onto the field. And play the game like you'll never see a football again.
Underclassmen, appreciate the opportunity that you have in front of you; because getting the chance to play for a state title is reserved for a select few. And whether you choose to believe it or not – you're not guaranteed to get back.
Record last week: 4-0
Playoffs record: 37-8
Season record: 472-76 (.861 Correct Pick Percentage)
Six games picked this week with all six games in the Bald Prediction spotlight.
(1) Plantation American Heritage (13-0) vs. Ponte Vedra (13-0)
Friday at Orlando Camping World Stadium, 3 p.m.
Despite both of these team coming in with undefeated records, looking at the matchup between these two teams – it's hard not to think that the scales tip in the favor of American Heritage.
Ponte Vedra, which is only making its fourth playoff appearance in school history, employs a spread offense – typically lining up with four receivers.
The Sharks offense is run by senior quarterback Nick Tronti. Tronti, a 6-foot-2 dual-threat quarterback committed to Charlotte, has thrown 65 touchdown passes in his career and can spread the ball around to any of four senior receivers – although his favorite target is Marshall Few, who's racked up over 1,000 receiving yards.
Going up against a team that runs a spread offense actually plays right into American Heritage's wheelhouse.
Heritage, which is returning to the Class 5A state title game for the third time in four years, has one of the best secondaries in the country. The group features three starters and one reserve that are the sons of former professional football players in Patrick Surtain Jr., Marco Wilson and Will Allen and nickel back Blake Wooden.
Genetic advantages aside, the Patriots' defensive front seven is at its best when it plays downhill – attacking the pocket with inside rushers George Ellis and Nesta Silvera and outside pass rushing specialist Andrew Chatfield.
Ultimately, it will be the speed of American Heritage's defense as a whole that overwhelms Ponte Vedra.
It will be the same thing when the Patriots have the ball on offense.
The speed of running backs Miles Jones and Jordan Johnson coupled with the dual-threat abilities of quarterback Jason Brown operating behind Heritage's big offensive line – and its situation where Heritage can jump out early and coast.
Ponte Vedra won't be able to re-create or simulate the speed of American Heritage
Bald Prediction = American Heritage wins 34-17
(3) St. Thomas Aquinas (11-2) vs. Tampa Plant (13-0)
Friday at Orlando Camping World Stadium, 8 p.m.
Here's the game that'll likely to be the most lopsided of the weekend.
Sure, Tampa Plant is a more than solid program that comes into this year's Class 7A championship game with an undefeated record. Better yet, the Panthers appeared in four straight title games from 2008 to 2011 and came away with three rings in that span.
But Plant is about to run into a team that is the same beast but a different animal.
St. Thomas Aquinas, ranked No. 9 in the country, rolls into this game with one of the nation's most talented rosters and easily one of the best head coaches in Roger "Zen Master" Harriott.
Of the 22 players that'll be on the field at any given time during this game – at least 15 of the top guys will be wearing a St. Thomas Aquinas jersey.
Plant relies on 5-foot-10 quarterback Dane Frantzen to propel its offense. The senior has thrown 28 touchdown passes this season and rushed for another 18 scores along with just over 1,300 yards.
It'll be interesting to see how Frantzen fares trying to work against the Aquinas defense – with a defensive line anchored by Kivon Bennett and Lashawn Paulino.
When St. Thomas has the ball, its offense will likely prove itself to be too talented and too versatile for the Panthers to slow down. Whether it's through the air with Jake Allen connecting with Jordan Merrell or Michael Harley or Joshua Palmer or on the ground with Mike Epstein or Kyshaun Bryan or Daniel Carter – the Raiders will be able to chew up yards in large chunks.
The added factor that makes me think this game could get out of hand in the second half is that Tampa Plant has made some comments via social media pertaining to how they think the game is going to go.
You don't poke the bear, Plant.
Bald Prediction = St. Thomas Aquinas wins 45-14
(9) Southridge (11-2) vs. Orlando Dr. Phillips (12-2)
Saturday at Orlando Camping World Stadium, 8 p.m.
Here's the game that'll probably be one of the more emotional and more competitive games of the weekend.
Southridge is making an appearance in a state championship game for the first time in over 20 years and the Spartans are not only carrying the expectations that come along with having one of the most talented rosters in Florida but they're also carrying the banner for all of the southern part of Miami-Dade County.
What happens – more than it should – is that people will get caught up in what goes on in central and northern Dade County and will overlook the south. I'll admit it, I'm guilty of it too.
But this Southridge team was too good to ignore. All season, we kept an eye on this Spartans team because of how talent-laden the roster is.
While its offense has its stars, Southridge's defense has proved to be the heart and soul of the team. The defense has recorded eight shutouts this season and allowed just 17 points through the first four playoff games.
Each level of the Spartans defense has playmakers and their confidence is at a supreme level.
Standing on the other side of the field will be a Dr. Phillips program that traditionally has its fair share of athletes and plays a brand of football similar to many of the teams in South Florida.
Ironically, Southridge and Dr. Phillips have played each other already this season. Granted, it was during the summer 7-on-7 tournament season – it was a showdown between the teams' skill players, which the Panthers won.
These teams also draw parallel comparisons in the fact that Dr. Phillips' two losses this season came to a Class 4A team (Cocoa) and a Class 6A team (Daytona Mainland). Just like Southridge lost to Booker T. Washington (Class 4A) and Miami Carol City (Class 6A).
Dr. Phillips strength lies in its defense too. Senior defensive end Robert Parcher, outside linebacker Nick Smith and middle linebacker Dylan Meeks leads a talented but not invincible group.
The Panthers have given up 58 points in the past two weeks.
Southridge's offense will have to step up Saturday night. Running back Bentavius Thompson will have a huge role to play as will senior tight end Kemore Gamble. Thompson is a physical runner who can also run away from defenders, while Gamble is a bonafide dual-threat tight end that will definitely win every matchup if he's covered by a linebacker and will also beat out most safeties and corners.
Ultimately, the Spartans have to make sure they don't do things that'll put them in a whole. That means not turning the ball over six times – like it did against Deerfield Beach – and it means being extra solid on special teams, as to not give up free points while it's defense isn't on the field.
I could see this being a fairly low-scoring game. But I think Southridge's defense will once again shine through and its offense will do just enough to earn that ring.
Bald Prediction = Southridge wins 16-10
(10) Carol City (9-3) vs. Lakeland Lake Gibson (13-0)
Saturday at Orlando Camping World Stadium, 3 p.m.
Don't be fooled by the records of these two teams.
One has played a tough gauntlet of a schedule against some of the strongest teams in Florida and still came out the other side standing strong.
And the other is Lake Gibson.
Carol City has been sharpened by games against Bradenton IMG Academy, Palm Beach Oxbridge, Miami Central, Coral Gables, Southridge and two meetings with Miami Northwestern.
The Chiefs defense, which I liked calling the "Dark Side Defense 2.0" but they've advised me that they prefer "Dogs", has been one of the stingiest units in the state this season. Even without the services of senior defensive end Deandre "Eye Candy" Wilder, other players such as Terry Straughter, Yasiir Abdulluh, and Moris Lugo have stepped up and made sure the train kept rolling.
I believe that Carol City will be able to overwhelm Lake Gibson. The Braves struggled to defeat Dillard 26-22 earlier this season. The Chiefs made easy work Dillard during the playoffs.
Once Carol City's offense, which has been played its best football of the season over the past three weeks, gives the Chiefs a lead – the "Dogs" will protect it and put the kibosh on anything Lake Gibson tries to do.
Coach Aubrey Hill earns a state championship ring.
Bald Prediction = Carol City wins 34-14
(18) Chaminade-Madonna (10-3) vs. Jacksonville Trinity Christian (10-3)
Friday at Orlando Camping World Stadium, 10 a.m.
Here's a matchup between two teams with similar styles.
Both of these squads are able to attack their opponent either on the ground or through the air.
Jacksonville Trinity Christian is going for its fourth straight state championship this weekend – and it would also be the Conquerors' fourth state title in the past six years.
Trinity Christian has a dynamic offensive duo in quarterback Legend Brumbaugh and running back Rasheed Martin. Brumbaugh is a traditional drop-back passer and Martin is a shifty runner that will surprise defenders with his strength.
What makes the Conquerors so formidable of an opponent is their size across the offensive line. Averaging 6-foot-2, 280-pounds across, Trinity Christian's offensive line allows the offense to be multi-dimensional.
Chaminade has almost identical qualities. The "pro-style" quarterback in Henry Colombi and the big offensive line – Davoan Hawkins, Steven Jean-Baptiste and A.J. Jancosko – and the shifty running back.
However, only referring to Lions' running back Shaun Shivers as "shifty" is quite an understatement. Shivers has blazing speed and has been Chaminade's "hot hand" through the playoffs. The 5-foot-7 junior has rushed for 620 yards through three playoffs games and his speed has been too much for Class 3A defenses to handle.
That's where Chaminade can get its edge – on the edges. The Lions have to get their playmakers – Shivers along with receivers Xavier Williams and Josh Ali – in space and enable them to use their athleticism to win matchups against Trinity Christian's defensive backs.
Even though the Trinity Christian head coach Verlon Dorminey has been at the helm of the Conquerors program since 1995 and has led them to 21 straight playoff appearances and six state titles, Dameon Jones is a seasoned coach and he's not one to shrink in the key moments.
It'll be a tough one, but Chaminade comes out on top.
Bald Prediction = Chaminade-Madonna wins 27-26
(24) Champagnat Catholic (11-1) vs. Jacksonville University Christian (9-2)
Saturday at Orlando Camping World Stadium, 10 a.m.
Here's a game that could end up being one of the better matchups of the weekend.
Don't let the 2A classification fool you, both of these teams are big on talent and both play a solid brand of football.
Jacksonville University Christian is a storied program with a rich football history. The Christians have won eight state championships – third most in Florida's history – including two in the past four seasons.
University Christian deploys a balanced offensive attack, but its "money man" is senior running back Otis Anderson. Anderson, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound ball carrier that is also used as a receiver out of the backfield, leads the team in total rushing and he's the team's third leading receiver.
The Christians are also a battle-tested team. University Christian took on fellow state finalist (3A) Jacksonville Trinity Christian and went on a road trip to face Georgia's Coffee High.
Without a doubt, Champagnat has a daunting task in front it. What will help the Lions win this game will be its "South Florida swagger".
Champagnat, which won a state championship in 2013, has been riding strong performances – three points allowed over the two previous games – by its defense. The Lions defense as a whole is going to have to stand up tall Saturday. Specifically, linebackers Donovan Georges and Jesus Machado will have to have one of the best games of their young careers.
Lions head coach Dennis Marroquin will need to get creative offensively, finding ways to create and exploit mismatches and put his athletes in the best position to succeed. This would be the perfect game to feature 6-foot-6 receiver Gregory Rousseau.
Rousseau presents a match-up problem for just about every defensive back he'd line up against and this could be his "Tommy Streeter moment" – putting on a dominating performance in one of the biggest games of the year.
It's not going to be easy, but I think the Lions can win this game.
Bald Prediction = Champagnat wins 21-17
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