As Braden River High's varsity football program enters uncharted territory with its first region final appearance, the Herald is unveiling a new feature this week to give Pirate fans a sense of what to expect Friday when the club faces Plant City on the road.
It's called, "Behind Enemy Lines," where we conducted a Q&A with Tampa Tribune sports reporter Nick Williams, who has covered Plant City this season, on some things to look for this Friday.
BH: Who are some of the Plant City players to watch?
NW: Have to start with running back Markese Hargrove, who is not the biggest back or the fastest, but very patient, follows his blocking and is very shifty and has a second gear when he gets past the second level. All-American receiver Tavares Chase, a Clemson commit, plays both sides of the ball as a WR and DB. Antoine Thompson is the receiver on the other side of the ball and they like to throw deep to him or give it to him in bubble screens.
BH: What's the most challenging aspect for opposing defenses to stopping Plant City's offense?
NW: Teams will find out they can't double team Chase or Plant City will make them pay by throwing to Thompson, unless they have a corner who is good enough to defend Thompson one-on-one.
BH: What are Plant City's strengths?
NW: They're strength is the defense. Greg Meyer is a defensive-minded coach and was the defensive coordinator for four years prior to becoming the head coach at Plant City. They have a standout linebacker in Steven Ogletree, who likes rushing the passer and is very explosive. Because Chase and Thompson also play in the secondary, teams aren't going to move the ball down the field by throwing the ball.
BH: What are Plant City's weaknesses?
NW: Teams might find some success putting pressure on their quarterback. If protection breaks down, he'll try to scramble but if he can't escape the pocket, on occasion he'll try to throw it away and will get called for intentional grounding or will scramble further behind the line of scrimmage for a large loss.
BH: What are the keys to potentially beating them?
NW: The lone loss of the season was to Armwood in the season opener, and Armwood is the most physical team in the area. Armwood played more physical, forced Plant City to punt and got a large lead. Plant City's offense isn't built to attack through the air, but to stay on the ground.
BH: Why do you think Plant City hasn't made it this far in the playoffs before, since the school has been around for a long time?
NW: The team has had five offensive coordinators in the past five years. Also, Plant City was always so stacked with Division I players it seemed like they expected to win and never did.
BH: What's the X-factor for Plant City on Friday?
NW: The X-Factor is special teams. Tydre Ward is one of the best kick returners in the area and if he has a chance, he's taking it to the house every time.
BH: What's your prediction for Friday's game?
NW: The fact that Braden River defeated Venice twice says a lot about that team, but because Plant City is at home and they'll feel comfortable in that environment if they get a lead, I say Plant City.