Nature Coast at Hernando (Homecoming), 7:30 p.m.
For the first five weeks of the season, Nature Coast seemed like a program teetering on the edge of a downward spiral.
Then last Friday happened.
When the Sharks rallied from a 19-0 deficit and stunned Pasco - a team that began the season ranked third in the state - in Dade City, 29-28, they rocked the North Suncoast and turned the Class 5A, District 6 race upside down.
"It was big and we accomplished a lot, and we're at the point where the kids understand they can win at a high level," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "But it's almost like you're never satisfied, because you can't be.
"The kids could have quit when it was 19-0, but they just fought and refused to give up. But there's still a lot to prove and accomplish and correct."
By knocking off the Pirates, the Sharks (2-2 overall, 2-0 5A-6) piled more drama onto an already volatile matchup with Hernando (1-3 overall, 1-0 5A-6).
The Leopards will be celebrating their homecoming at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium, in a game that means so much more that it initially appeared.
"If we had lost last week, this would be nothing but a rivalry game," Liggett said. "Now it's way more than just a rivalry game. Now we've gotten ourselves in a position to play and compete for a spot in the (playoffs). Now there are truly district implications involved."
Liggett, though, cautioned that the Pasco win came at a heavy cost. Running back/defensive back DeShawn Smith, who scored three touchdowns, banged up a knee late in that game and is questionable for this one.
Liggett said there are no tears or breaks, but the sophomore is "just beat up."
Tight end Ryan Roscillo is out due to a concussion, though offensive guard Nick Vogel returns after missing the Pasco tilt with the same injury.
Another reservation Liggett has, he recalls last year's contest against Hernando. The Sharks came in riding high off a shutout at Mitchell, only to fall to the Leopards, 14-7, in a game that ultimately decided a playoff berth.
Hernando has captured the past three meetings between these two county schools, and the all-time series is knotted at 4-4.
"Going into Pasco you had nothing to lose and all to gain and you gained it," Liggett said. "Now you do have something to lose. There's a lot more at stake. I hope we don't play tight. I hope we play free."
The Leopards' early-season performance has been tough to judge. All three of their losses are to teams currently appearing in the Associated Press state polls.
Hernando now embarks of a season-defining stretch of district clashes, with South Sumter, Pasco and Zephyrhills all on the horizon.
To start that off right, the Leopards must try to combat the distractions that come with homecoming activities.
"Our thing this week is to stay focused on the task at hand," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "It's the start of a big run for us with teams in our district. We're trying to stay focused, do what we need to do and then have fun with the homecoming stuff after the game."
There are personnel issues for the Leopards to overcome, as well. Tight end/safety K.D. Hagood and outside linebacker Dallas Maclachlan were both ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct in last Friday's 47-9 loss to Cocoa.
As a result, the FHSAA originally levied both with six-week suspensions. However, an appeal resulted in Maclachlan's penalty getting reduced to three games and Hagood's to one, the FHSAA decided Wednesday.
Mobley said a review of the game tape was inconclusive as to what caused the two players to get tossed.
Center Todd Flannery might also miss his second straight game due to a hip flexor.
No matter who does or doesn't play the atmosphere figures to be electric.
"I hope it's like our Springstead game," Liggett said. "I hope it's packed. I love those games. We love going over to Hernando. We love that atmosphere.
"I hope Hernando fans come out for homecoming and come out because it's Nature Coast. And I hope Nature Coast fans, after last week's win, have a resurgence of hope and come out and support us."
This game will be carried live on WWJB 1450 AM and 103.9 FM, and streamed live at wwjb.com, beginning with the pregame show at 6:45 p.m.
Weeki Wachee at Central, 7:30 p.m.
Another county rivalry will be on display this week, perhaps no less important to the teams involved.
Weeki Wachee (1-4 overall, 0-2 5A-6) and Central (0-5 overall, 0-2 5A-6) have both stumbled in the early going, and are each desperate to reverse that trend.
There's also a bit of personal pride on the line in a matchup the schools have officially dubbed "The Battle of Hexam," after the road that virtually connects them.
The teams have even gone as far as to create a traveling trophy, which has resided in the Hornets' gym since last year's 33-14 win in their inaugural meeting with the Bears.
"I'm sure both schools are pretty excited for this game," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "We're five minutes away from each other. Everyone knows everyone and it's a big game.
"We're struggling. They've had some tough outings, and both teams feel like they need to get on the right track."
To do that, the Hornets will have to overcome at least one significant obstacle: their shaky quarterback situation.
Marcus Allen's neck injury that forced him to be taken to a local hospital as a precaution last week could keep him out of action. Allen had started the past two games in place of David Tinch, who is still limited by a shoulder issue.
If neither can go, wide receiver Kyle Keelan or running back Jon King would end up sliding under center, Lee said.
Keelan threw two incompletions with an interception relieving Allen a week ago. King has filled in at quarterback in the past.
No matter what, Lee admitted that the Hornets will have to rely on running the football.
They'll have to find a way to stop the run, too. Opposing teams have piled up over 300 yards on the ground each of the past four games.
That's not good news considering the Hornets will be facing the county's leading rusher, Robbie Bradley (712 yards).
"We've got to tackle," Lee said. "We've had way too many missed tackles. And we've got to get 11 hats to the ball. He's a strong runner. He doesn't go down easy.
"We've got to find a way to contain him. It's not going to be easy. There haven't been any teams that have done a great job of containing him."
For both squads, it's a key opportunity to turn around a rugged start.
"It's a crazy district," Lee said. "We've got to get going. We've already got our backs against the wall and we need to finish the season strong. The kids know there's a sense of urgency. We've got to get things going and start playing better. With our district and our schedule, it won't be easy."
Springstead at Fivay, 7:30 p.m.
Working on a four-game winning streak, Springstead (4-1 overall, 1-0 6A-6) appears to have hit its stride at the season's midway point.
"We're feeling pretty good," Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. "The first few weeks we were a little suspect with ball security. But we've gotten away from that. We've secured the football and done a good job of eliminating turnovers and finishing drives offensively."
At Fivay, the Eagles will try to stay unbeaten in their quest to repeat as district champions.
"This is another money week for us," Garofano said. "It's Round 2 of four rounds of money (district) games and we never look too far ahead."
The Falcons (2-2) are playing their first district tilt of the season, coming off a 44-21 loss to Anclote.
They've shown offensive balance, with Eric Vitale completing 25-of-56 passes for 619 yards and eight touchdowns against three picks.
On the ground, Davion Sutton leads the team with 54 carries for 421 yards and three scores.
Fivay, however, has had issues keeping the opposing team off the board, giving up 33.5 points per game.
The Eagles have had no such trouble since the disastrous 27-point second quarter in the season-opening loss at Citrus. In their four wins, they're permitting 12.7 points.
Quarterback Tyler Mahla rushed for 138 yards and his county-leading seventh touchdown in last Friday's 30-18 win over Tampa-Berkeley Prep.
Still, Garofano would like to see a more complete effort from his club from start to finish.
"I think the biggest thing for us right now, we've played good halves," Garofano said. "We've really played well in the fourth quarter of most of our games. But offensively, it takes us a while to get going. We need to figure things out a little quicker."
Two running backs are dinged up, Latavious Hannah, who is questionable with the ankle injury that held him out last week, and Kevin Bedford, probable with his own ankle ailment.