Bragging rights are always nice, but a spot in the playoffs is better.
And it’s possible that’s exactly what might be on the line Friday night at Faris Brannen Stadium when the two U.S. 98 rivals, Frostproof and Fort Meade, meet in a Class 3A, District 4 showdown.
Both come in with just one district loss, both to district leading Tampa Catholic which is poised to take the top spot in league play. But the runner up in the district also earns a playoff spot too.
If the winner of Friday night’s game also wins their district game on Nov. 1, they will be the runner up and advance. That isn’t a given, however, as Frostproof, 6-1 overall, will host Berkeley Prep and the Miners, 6-2, will host Lakeland Christian that night.
So, in essence, both teams control their own playoff destiny.
There are, as usual, a lot of similarities in the two teams. There are explosive playmakers and hard hitting defenders galore. Frostproof has given up only 87 points so far this year, Fort Meade 94. The Bulldogs have rolled up 342 points so far this season, the Miners “just” 204.
For fans of either team that can’t make the game, but might be near a computer, a free Internet broadcast is offered live at www.floridacast.com.
Both coaches know that there is plenty on the line Friday night, and are looking forward to the challenge.
“For the last three years, it’s not only just a rivalry, but a district rivalry now,” Harris said. “Our kids know what’s at stake and they have to perform, but we’ve been working to not over hype the game but focus on what we’re supposed to do.”
Harris said neither team has many secrets at this point of the season.
“They’re a typical Fort Meade team. They play extremely hard, and they’re very well coached. For us to squeak out a win against them, we have to play a great game on defense,” Harris said. “They do a great job with formations and getting their playmakers the ball. We’ll have to keep an eye on Tobias Culpepper and Ryan Fulse. They’re very good ball players, but we can’t just focus on them. They have a lot of guys who contribute. They’re a lot like us in that regard.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs try to take what other teams give them, again, a lot like Fort Meade.
“It’s so important that we don’t worry about what they do, but worry about what we do,” Harris said. “And we’ll try to take away what we do best, and they’ll try to do the same.”
Fort Meade Coach Jemalle Cornelius said his club comes into the game relatively healthy — as does Frostproof — and that his staff isn’t shying away from the importance of the matchup.
“We control our own destiny, that’s what we’ve been telling our kids,” Cornelius said. “They understand it. You can’t not talk about it. That’s the expectation level at the school we go to. I’d rather they hear it from me than other people.”
One of the strategies the Miners will look to employ Friday is a common sense one, controlling the football when they have it to keep Frostproof’s explosive playmakers on the sideline for as long as possible.
“They have a lot of athletes, so we have to make sure we’re disciplined,” Cornelius said. “The number one thing against good athletes is you have to make sure you tackle, you don’t want to give them second chances to make plays. And on offense we have to make sure we’re moving the ball. We have to avoid three and outs.”
When all is said and done, Cornelius added, it comes down to what happens when the opening kickoff is in the air.
“Once 7 o’clock Friday hits, the only thing that matters is playing the game,” he added. “Newspapers, fans, all that stuff doesn’t make much of a difference, it’s the guys on the field.”
Frostproof is dubbing Friday’s game as a “Beat Breast Cancer” awareness night, and is encouraging all fans to wear pink. The Bulldogs are dedicating the game to high school math teacher Kathryn Keller, who is battling cancer.