We've come to one of my favorite weeks of the year.
I've always enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday. Not just because of the food, but because it's a time to sit back and reflect on all the positive things in our lives that we typically take for granted.
Don't get me wrong, though, the food is awesome.
My wife made fried turkey last year…changed my life. Plus, Thursday is a day full of football leading into a weekend chocked full of even more football.
Anyone who's still playing football this week has a lot to be thankful for. This is elite eight (for classes 4A through 8A) and the final four (for classes 1A through 4A), so this is the cream of the crop that's left.
I had a very rough week in round two. I wasn't happy with the fact that I struggle to barely get about .500 by going 6-5. There's one thing that I learned because of my down week: always trust your initial instincts. In two games, I changed my initial – what I call – "skeleton picks" – and both times it came back to haunt me.
Moving on to round three only means that the games are going to get even tougher to pick – especially because now I have to study tons of film on opposing teams just like the South Florida coaches do because I want to be as familiar with the other teams as I possibly can.
At the expense of sounding like a broken record; I'll remind players, coaches and fans again that attention to small details means the difference between winning and losing at this point.
Every point counts – ask McArthur – and games can turn on "inches". An inch too far, an inch too short, an inch too far left or right, and you'll find yourself crying into your leftover collard greens come Friday night.
Because a majority of the South Florida teams are playing against teams from around the state, I want to wish the Miami-Dade and Broward county teams the best of luck and I want to wish everyone a very happy and safe Thanksgiving.
Get yourself some fried turkey and thank me later.
Record last week: 6-5
Playoff record: 26-7
Season record: 461-75 (.860 Correct Pick Percentage)
Eight games picked this week with three games in the Bald Predictions spotlight.
(10) Carol City (7-3) vs. Daytona Beach Mainland (11-0)
Friday at Daytona Municipal Stadium, 7:30 p.m. – Region 4-6A Final
This is easily one of the most intriguing games of the third round. There are a couple of interesting narratives to follow here.
The first is that this is the first time in three seasons that Daytona Beach Mainland will go on a playoff run and won't have to worry about running into Miami Central. Mainland has always had its dreams of potentially playing for a state title dashed by the Rockets and now, the figurative "bully" is off the block.
While a loss is a loss is a loss, one has to remember and respect the fact that the Buccaneers have gone 36-5 over the past three seasons – and three of those losses came at the hands of Central.
Mainland is a well-coached team (Scott Wilson) and they have a core group of senior athletes that would want nothing more than to finally make it past a team from Miami-Dade County.
Senior athlete and Western Michigan commit Denzel Houston is Mainland's trigger man. He's a typical undersized but super talented dual-threat Florida quarterback; he threw for 2,783 yards and 34 touchdowns while also running for 575 yards and another 11 touchdowns this past season and has put up comparable numbers in 2016.
Carol City rolls into this game having knocked off its bitter rival Northwestern in a thrilling 34-27 game. The Chiefs proved to themselves and to the rest of South Florida that they are a complete team, one that can rise to the occasion in big moments.
It was huge for Carol City's confidence to go into a game like last week's regional semifinal without two of its best football players – sophomore running back Nayquan Wright (injury) and senior defensive end Deandre Wilder (age) – and still come out victorious.
In the cliché, "next man up" mentality – it was defensive end Yasiir Abdullah who came away with five sacks and receivers Kevaughn Dingle and Victor Tucker to each pull down two touchdown passes.
Looking at this matchup, Carol City will likely represent the toughest defense that Mainland has faced this season. The Buccaneers have scored at least 35 points in every game this season whereas the Chiefs have only allowed three opponents to score in double figures this season – two of those instances were against the Bulls.
On the other side of the ball, Wright's health status is still up in the air. Junior Camron Davis is more than capable of carrying the ground game workload, but having Wright would be a huge boost.
The health of Carol City quarterback Marlon Smith is also in question. He exited the game against Northwestern and was on the sideline as sophomore quarterback Lorenzo Floyd threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Again, Floyd is a capable replacement, but having Smith would be better – he is the starter for a reason.
This is a game where the Chiefs' "Dark Side Defense 2.0" has to step up. They came up with the necessary stops this past week in a "bend but don't break" fashion, but this is a game where it needs to be more like the dominant and suffocating group that it was throughout the season.
An added factor that I believe will play in the Chiefs' favor is that they've gone on road trips for games three times already this season. Carol City took trips to Bradenton (IMG Academy, Palm Beach (Oxbridge Academy) and Lakeland – so they won't be fazed by taking the ride to Daytona and they shouldn't be overwhelmed by playing in someone else's stadium in a big-game situation.
Chiefs win a hard fought game.
Bald Prediction = Carol City wins 23-21
(9) Southridge (9-2) vs. (11) Coral Gables (11-1)
Friday at Southridge Stadium, 3 p.m. – Region 4-8A Regional Final
Now that this game has finally settled on where it will be played, here's a matchup that – on the surface – has a "David vs. Goliath" feel to it.
Even the Coral Gables booster club's social media account is playing up that element. The account has made various posts this week pointing out how many players on Southridge's roster have Division-I scholarship offers and saying that the Spartans have "more talent than a small college team".
I'm all for using the "why not us" or "us against the world" mantras as a rallying cry, but I find their means of doing it this week – a bit odd.
Coral Gables handed me one of those bitter losses I was talking about earlier where I switched my pick at the last minute. The Cavaliers showed a lot of gumption and heart in their win over Columbus.
Once again, senior running back Jamar Thompkins had himself a big game and once again the Gables defense stepped up and rose to the challenge.
A lot of credit is owed to Gables' coaching staff as a whole, but specifically to head coach Roger Pollard for showing that he's definitely one of the bright young coaching minds that we have in South Florida. He's shown throughout his very productive tenure that he defense is his specialty, but also that he's a great motivator and manager of his team.
Southridge, on the other hand, is a team that I've been fairly hard on this season because their roster is chocked full of top-tier talent.
But it seems like the Spartans have put all their pieces together, figured things out and now look like a mighty tough team to beat.
What makes Southridge so daunting is that they have all-star caliber players on both sides of the ball. It's not like they have one spectacular unit that has to carry the other; Southridge can literally throw multiple future major college football players at opponents in every phase of the game.
Okay, I might get what the Coral Gables booster club was doing…
The key to this matchup will be Southridge's ability to actually go out and execute the steps it takes to win this game. What could hurt the Spartans and open the door for Coral Gables would be: mistakes (turnovers) that the Cavaliers will certainly capitalize on.
Coach Pollard and his staff will cook up a game plan to try to exploit any cracks that they find in film study and try to put their team in the best possible position, but Southridge's overall talent coupled with the fact the Spartans have overcome the early bumps and developed the chemistry needed for a squad to make a deep run – makes me lean towards the home team.
Because this game will ultimately be played on Southridge's home turf – something that wasn't the case earlier in the week – it will be a rallying point for the Spartans. They'll want to defend their home field even more because there was a chance they wouldn't be able to play on it.
I don't think this game will be a runaway – Coral Gables is too good to let something like that happen – but I do think Southridge will earn a victory.
Bald Prediction = Southridge wins 22-17
(12) Deerfield Beach (9-2) vs. Delray Beach Atlantic (9-3)
Friday at Deerfield Beach, 7:30 p.m. – Region 3-8A Regional Final
Here's a game that won't get much of the attention, but it's a game in which one team can take another big step forward in living up to the expectations placed on it at the start of the season.
Of course, I'm talking about Deerfield Beach.
I've been hard on the Bucks this season. I've held the team to the fire for some of its performances this season and I feel justified for it because of the immense amount of talent that is on Deerfield Beach's roster.
Like fellow Class 8A elite eight participant Miami Southridge, Deerfield Beach has a roster brimming with talented players with Division-I offers and just a great collection of high school football players.
Looking at a roster like that, it's easy for folks – including myself – to want to rush "the process" and expect greatness right out of the gate. The team has to gel, a hierarchy has to be built and things have to go on a progressive arc as the season toils on.
Delray Beach Atlantic is a team that hasn't always fared well against South Florida teams – not in recent history at least.
The Eagles came to Dade County just this past spring and were sent back home with a 48-12 loss thanks to Northwestern. This past season, Atlantic went head-to-head with Flanagan and failed to register any significant blows in a 35-0 loss – the Eagles' only loss in the 2015 season.
Granted, every team is different year to year and a squad will look a lot different from seeing them in May to laying eyes on them in late November, but those are lasting images.
What I will say about Atlantic is that it always has a nice group of athletes on the roster. This season is no different. Senior quarterback Zavion Thompson is a dual-threat weapon that has had a productive career for the Eagles. Athlete Marquis Waters is, arguably, the team's best player – the Duke University commit will run the ball for the offense and line up at safety (his more natural position) for the defense.
Deerfield Beach will likely be in the top three in terms of overall talent for teams that Atlantic has faced this season. As I've said and written on multiple occasions, the Bucks are more than just Jerry Jeudy. Much more actually.
I think this is another matchup, like the region 4-8A final, where the more talented team just has to go out and execute the necessary steps to win the game. With Deerfield playing the cleanest game it possibly can, dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's, the Bucks should come out with a win.
A part of me thinks that this game could end up with a double-digit margin, but football is a funny game. And come playoff time, it's downright wacky.
Still, Bucks win.
Bald Prediction = Deerfield Beach wins 27-21
(1) Plantation American Heritage at Orlando Bishop Moore = American Heritage wins by 1
(3) St. Thomas Aquinas vs. (15) Mater Academy = St. Thomas Aquinas wins by 10
(6) Booker T. Washington vs. Cocoa (Fl.) = Booker T. Washington wins by 7
(18) Chaminade-Madonna vs. Melbourne Central Catholic = Chaminade wins by 3
(24) Champagnat Catholic vs. St. Petersburg Northside Christian = Champagnat wins by 2
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