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Bald Predictions - High School Football Playoffs Round Two

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And then there were a few less.

The games are getting more and more exciting and the stakes are getting higher and higher. What happens in this round really tells the story of which teams are true title contenders.

The already paper-thin margin for error gets even smaller in this round. A lot of times, because these second round matchups are often district rematches, these games are won because of adjustments – ones made in pregame preparation and the always important in-game moves.

Teams essentially have to have three game plans: the one the opponent knows about, the one they don't know about, and a special ace in the hole for emergencies.

The pressure begins to mount now. For almost all of the programs left on the bracket – especially those in South Florida – the games now have greater implications than what actually happens on the field. The future success of these programs hinges and swings on some of the most obscure things.

Again, it's all about attention to detail.

I was able to get off to a solid start last week, correctly picking 20 out of 22 games. But the number of games gets cut in half, which means my margin has shrunk too.

There were a lot of blowouts last week, but I do not expect that trend to continue this week.

Record last week: 20-2
Season record: 455-70 (.866 Correct Pick Percentage)

11 games picked this week with three games in the Bald Predictions Spotlight.

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(2) Northwestern (10-1) vs. (10) Carol City (6-3)
Friday at Traz Powell Stadium, 7:30 p.m.

Here's the game that everyone was looking forward as soon as the clock went 0:00 on the regular season matchup between these two teams.

Both of these teams ride into this game having breezed through their regional quarterfinal games and now will stand toe-to-toe with one another in a game that is sure to be more physical and more intense than the first.

Northwestern, the unofficial kings of Miami-Dade County this season, hasn't lost a game since their rally fell short against Plantation American Heritage back on September 9th.

The Bulls have proven to be a team that can run the ball, get big plays through its passing game, and shut teams down with one of the best defensive front sevens in South Florida.

All season senior running back Kai Henry has been Northwestern's offensive bell cow. His tough, between-the-tackles running has worn down opposing defenses and he's put up county-leading numbers.

But Henry's battering-ram style of running has worn on him a bit. The Bulls elected to rest Henry during their 38-0 win over Boynton Beach and relied on junior quarterback Chatarius "Tutu" Atwell and a committee of other ball carriers to shoulder the offensive load.

How healthy Henry is, the fans will see come Friday night, but there's no doubt he'll be in uniform and ready to carry the ball.

Carol City has continued to ride the strength of its defense – "Dark Side Defense 2.0". The Chiefs looked impressive in their big win over Dillard, but they did it without two of their best players.

As was known for more than a week now, senior defensive end Deandre "Eye Candy" Wilder "aged out" – meaning he surpassed the age of 19 years and nine months and won't be able to play in any more games for Carol City this season.

But Carol City was also without sophomore running back Nayquan Wright. Wright has been nursing a leg injury which he sustained in the first Northwestern game and he's been limited in what he's able to do since.

One would be inclined to think that Wright would be available to go for the Chiefs with two weeks of rest. Junior running back Camron Davis has handled the bulk of the rushing load with Wright out of the lineup and I know he's eager to make up for his shortcomings in the first game against the Bulls.

Looking back at the previous game, I am reminded that both defenses flexed their muscles. Sure, the heavy rainfall helped, but Carol City's defense only truly surrendered 10 (of 19) points and Northwestern's defense only gave up eight (of 14) points.

Both teams scored defensive touchdowns.

The teams are so evenly matched, it's hard to give a clear-cut advantage to either squad.

Northwestern can rely on Atwell to make good things happen either with his arm or legs, but how healthy will Henry be?

Carol City is definitely down Wilder on defense and the status of Wright, who ran for a 92-yard touchdown run against the Bulls in the regular season, is still up in the air, so will they be able to rise to the occasion without two of their – if not two – best football players?

I fully expect this game to come down to the wire once again.

Bald Prediction = Northwestern wins 16-12

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(4) McArthur (11-0) vs. (15) Mater Academy (10-1)
Friday at Hialeah Milander Park, 7:30 p.m.

Here's a game that will feature a pair of teams that are greatly benefitting from having strong coaching staffs in place.

Both of these teams have had success in the past, but looking at them now – you see the true impact of having coaches that can both draw talented players in and help those players get even better and make a formidable team.

Mater Academy comes in riding a 10-game winning streak. The Lions haven't lost a game since a week one fall at Miramar and have turned into a squad capable of scoring a heap of points. Since its seven-point output against the Patriots, Mater has scored 21 or more points in every game it played.

I'd like to say that senior running back Daniel Doriscar was responsible for much of the Lions' scoring, but he's missed time with multiple nagging injuries. While Doriscar, or "Steak Sauce" as he's called by teammates and coaches, missed time – other players like quarterback Kaywon Hanna, junior running back Lentivone Lesane and senior receiver Travon Roberts had to step in and prove themselves as reliable offensive playmakers.

They did and now that "Steak" is back healthy and in the lineup full-time, Mater is that much stronger of a team.

On the other side is a McArthur team that holds the high distinction of being one of only two undefeated teams in South Florida this season – Plantation American Heritage is the other.

The Mustangs have impressed this season – showing that they are a balanced team that can run the ball, throw the ball, and make key defensive stops in critical moments.

At the start of the season most people pointed at junior athlete Dominick Watt as McArthur's "big gun", but as the season wore on folks began to realize that head coach Laron Culpepper has a full arsenal of talented players at his disposal.

6-foot-4 junior receiver Damarco Harris has made big strides (pun not intended) this season as has sophomore quarterback Deon Jones, who accounted for four touchdowns in McArthur's first round playoff victory.

The steadiest guy in the group has been junior running back Craig Cooper. Cooper, much like Doriscar, doesn't get a lot of credit for his individual talents – but all he's done this season is total 1,000 yards from scrimmage with 10 touchdowns.

Looking at the matchup, I'd be inclined to say that McArthur has the edge. The chief reason being that whatever Mater Academy can throw at McArthur, the Mustangs can counter with that same thing and a bit more.

Mater's defensive front is solid – especially with sophomore defensive end Mikel Jones anchoring the line. But thinking back to the Lions' round one win, I saw a defense that was still fairly susceptible against a strong running game.

Cooper City's Tyler Brown ran for 173 yards.

McArthur rushed for 175 yards as a team in its round one win.

The other factor is the Mustangs' ability to create mismatches on the outside with its physically dominant receivers. Harris is a matchup nightmare with his height and Watt has the scary combo of size (6-foot-2) and speed. Also, senior Jaquan Denson has to be accounted for.

It's unclear if Mater will have 6-foot-3 standout defensive back Latavious Brini in the lineup – he did not play against Cooper City – but even if he is, his assignment will likely be Harris since he's the only one capable of matching up height-wise.

Ultimately, I see this being a fairly high-scoring game. I think Doriscar will get his and Mater will find a way to produce points but I feel that McArthur will get the couple of stops needed to churn out another victory.

Bald Prediction = McArthur wins 34-28

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(9) Coral Gables (8-1) vs. (13) Columbus (7-3)
Thursday at Tropical Park, 7 p.m.

Out of all the games in the second round, this is one of the ones that I have mulled over the most.

I've paid extra attention to this one because of the performance of Coral Gables in the opening round. I – incorrectly – picked the Cavaliers to lose against North Miami Beach and they not only won the game, they put up their fourth-highest point total of the season in a 47-12 victory.

The other reason I've hemmed and hawed about this one is the old adage: "it's hard to beat a team twice in the same season".

These two teams locked horns three weeks ago with the Explorers coming out on top in a 14-7 slugfest.

Thinking back on the previous matchup, neither team was able to do much offensively. Coral Gables didn't even score an offensive touchdown – it's one score came on an interception return.

Columbus, too, had a pick-six; but the Explorers were able to manufacture a first quarter touchdown and it ended up being the difference in the game.

Between the torrential rain that fell on the stadium and the stout defenses, there was maybe 130 combined total offensive yards gained by the teams.

Looking at this matchup again, I see a Columbus team that is battle tested. The Explorers have lined up against some of the best teams that Miami-Dade has to offer and they've come out the other side better for wear because of it.

This game is going to a lot of small details, the most important of which being field position. I feel like It's going to be tough for either team to sustain long drives against the other's defense, so whichever team is able to create its own breaks with solid special teams plays will put itself in the best position to win.

Gables will be welcoming the healthy return of stud junior defensive back Gilbert Frierson, who missed the Cavs' opening round game after taking a hard hit in the regular season finale. Having Frierson back in the lineup means Gables can be even more aggressive in its stacking against the run because he is more than able to patrol center field and defend against a pass over the top.

Both teams will be keying on the other's run game – and rightfully so. Both teams look to establish the ground game early in an effort to set the tone at the line of scrimmage and take the pressure off of their quarterbacks.

Quarterback play will also be a huge factor. Coral Gables has Nick Galuppo and Columbus will put the ball in the hands of Marcelo Rodriguez. Neither has put together a spectacular statistical season, but they both can operate within the confines of their offensive systems.

I'd have to give Columbus the slight edge in the quarterback matchup and I think it'll be a field goal – either early or late – that turns out to be the difference in this game.

Bald Prediction = Columbus wins 16-13

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Other Games

(1) Plantation American Heritage vs. (8) Cardinal Gibbons = American Heritage wins by 6

(3) St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Palm Beach Dwyer = St. Thomas Aquinas wins by 10

(6) Booker T. Washington vs. (14) Miami Edison = Booker T. wins by 14

(7) Flanagan vs. (12) Deerfield Beach = Deerfield Beach wins by 4

(11) Southridge vs. Miami Palmetto = Southridge wins by 13

(18) Chaminade-Madonna vs. Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy = Oxbridge Academy wins by 12

(24) Champagnat Catholic vs. Naples First Baptist = Naples First Baptist wins by 3

North Broward Prep vs. Archbishop McCarthy = Archbishop McCarthy wins by 7

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