Sunlake at Hernando, 7:30 p.m.
On a night when Hernando will honor its past, its present hangs very much in the balance.
The Leopards host Sunlake tonight in a key Class 6A, District 6 battle, and at halftime will introduce the 2012 Hernando High Sports Hall of Fame induction class.
"We approach this game like we approach every other game," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "We want to play better than we played the last game.
"This game is very important, but every game is very important for us, because it's for the district."
The Leopards (3-3 overall, 3-0 6A-6) may have gone winless during the early non-district portion of their schedule, but have turned things around since district play began.
After squeaking by Land O' Lakes, 14-13, they've posted back-to-back shutouts against Central (33-0) and River Ridge (35-0).
Yet there is a caveat. Those three teams are all winless in the district, and each has one win apiece.
But against the Royal Knights a week ago, Hernando had what Mobley admitted was its finest offensive performance of year.
Tyrail Hawkins and Ra'shaad Hart combined to rush for 259 yards and two touchdowns, and each threw for a score.
"We're in a good place right now," Mobley said. "Guys are having fun at practice. Guys are having fun playing the game.
"The offense played a very good game. We drove the ball down the field. We had holes to run through. Our running backs were hitting the holes."
Mobley still lamented turnovers, however, after the Leopards threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles.
Those types of mistakes could prove more costly against a Seahawk club already backed against a proverbial wall.
Sunlake (4-1 overall, 2-1 6A-6), the district runner-up in 2011, pulled out a vital 14-13 victory over Nature Coast last week.
A punter dropping to a knee, a mishandled PAT and a two-point conversion proved the difference in that one.
But the Seahawks also showed off a stout defense, limiting Nature Coast's Matt Breida to 58 yards.
"Their defense is pretty good," Mobley said. "Their linebackers do a lot of flowing and come up and make the tackle.
"We don't have just a Matt Breida. We have more running backs than just one. When you're just keying on one guy, you don't have to worry about nobody else. We have 3-4 different running backs, and we can pass the ball, too."
Quarterback Josh Zifer has proved a dual threat for Sunlake, as exhibited by his 102 rushing yards against the Sharks.
Senior running back Eddie Burgos has run for 599 yards and eight scores, and has 12 catches for 98 and two touchdowns.
Just as last Friday, the Seahawks will be in desperation mode, a situation Hernando would like to avoid.
"It's hard to get second place if you have two losses in the district," Mobley said. "If we lose, that puts us in that spot where we have to win the rest of the time."
This game will be carried live on WWJB 1450 AM and WXJB 99.9 FM, and streamed live at wwjb.com, beginning with the pregame show at 7 p.m.
River Ridge at Springstead, 7:30 p.m.
For the second week in a row, unbeaten Springstead finds itself matched up with a sputtering opponent.
It would stand to reason that the Eagles (6-0 overall, 3-0 6A-6) should coast to another win hosting River Ridge (1-4 overall, 0-3 6A-6) at Booster Stadium tonight.
Springstead's longtime head coach Bill Vonada certainly doesn't see it that way.
"They've struggled some this season, but they're one of those teams that you look at them and say they're going to have a breakout game against somebody.
"Our guys realize they can't take anybody lightly. The nature of this team isn't 'Get this superstar the ball and that superstar the ball and it won't matter if we're not playing well.'
"This is a blue-collar team. We know we've got to show up to work every day if we want to get paid."
The Eagles did just that in a 42-7 triumph at Central last week.
It was the kind of collective effort that has defined this Springstead contingent, with no one even surpassing 90 yards on the ground.
"We haven't played the perfect game yet," Vonada said. "There's always stuff to improve and you're facing different schemes every week.
"You're trying to fix some stuff, and you're trying to adjust to what the other teams are doing."
The Royal Knights haven't built on their 7-3 campaign in 2011, largely due to loss of personnel. Thus far they have been outscored in district play 115-24.
Senior quarterback Josh Maisel remains River Ridge's greatest weapon, throwing for 368 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for a team-best 324 yards and a score.
"Any time you have a mobile quarterback like that, it presents a problem for the defense," said Vonada, also pointing to the Royal Knights' size up front.
"I'd like to see us first of all continue to take care of the football. That's been big for us all year. We need to continue on that trend.
"I'd like to see us eliminate a couple of penalties. I'd like to see us get out of the gate well. And I think special teams needs a little bit more work, too."
Land O' Lakes at Nature Coast, 7:30 p.m.
A critical district loss at Sunlake last week has Nature Coast facing a must-win scenario the remainder of the season.
Tonight, the Sharks (3-3 overall, 2-1 6A-6) host Land O' Lakes (1-4 overall, 0-3 6A-6) for homecoming at Shark Tank Stadium.
"That was a rough one. That was a big one," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said of the Sunlake defeat. "We're hoping this week we get back on track.
"Any game we lose (going forward), I feel like we're out of the district. I don't think anybody with two losses is going to get in (the playoffs)."
Liggett talked about the team having an inner focus, which makes sense considering how the Sharks fell to the Seahawks.
When a low snap caused the punter's knee to hit the ground, it led to a go-ahead touchdown for Sunlake.
In the fourth quarter, Nature Coast had a chance to tie, but was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a touchdown.
The ensuing 35-yard PAT was never attempted when the Sharks couldn't get the hold down.
Nature Coast can put that in the past by rebounding against the Gators.
It seems strange to see Land O' Lakes at the bottom of the district standings. The Gators had advanced to the postseason 14 straight years prior to last season.
Mitchell, beating Land O' Lakes 27-17 a week ago, rushed for 407 yards, including 263 and four touchdowns by Dan Barber.
That sounds like good news for Breida, looking to recover from his worst outing of the year.
But Liggett still feels the Gators are dangerous.
"They're not as bad as 1-4 looks," Liggett said. "You look at their record, the teams they've lost to are decent ballclubs. We're not taking them for granted."
Aside from potential homecoming distractions, the Sharks have to overcome the loss of outside linebacker/punt returner Luis Espinosa.
The junior twisted his right ankle late in last Friday's action, and will be out for this week.
Senior Jacquez Kincade will return punts in his place, while sophomore LeShaun Gray starts at linebacker.
South Sumter at Weeki Wachee, 7:30 p.m.
From the beginning, head coach Mark Lee has known his first-year Weeki Wachee squad faced one particularly daunting 4A-4 game.
The time has come for the Hornets (1-4 overall, 0-3 4A-4) to take on South Sumter, as the Bushnell bunch arrives tonight.
The Red Raiders (6-0 overall, 2-0 4A-4) are no ordinary foe. They're ranked second in the Associated Press 4A state poll.
"For us, we want to control what we can control, try to do our assignments effectively," Lee said. "We know we're David's little midget brother going up against Goliath's little midget brother.
"They've got some studs, there's no doubt about it. We have to play a perfect game just to try to be competitive. But our kids are excited about the challenge."
Though a few fourth quarters have gotten away from Weeki Wachee, the fledgling team has hung around in every tilt thus far.
That figures to be a difficult task, and not just because South Sumter averages 46.7 points per game, and has outscored its opponents 280-53.
Injuries have hit the Hornets at the worst possible time. Quarterback David Tinch will actually return after missing 2 ½ games with a bad hip, though only as a punter.
Meanwhile, tailback/free safety Jon King (shoulder) and fullback/linebacker Andrew Vreeland (right thumb) are out for this week.
"We'll try to control the ball, try to keep the defense off the field," Lee said. "The problem is they have nine returning starters on defense. They're pretty dang-gone good.
"They've got athletes. They're well-coached. They're disciplined. They play with a lot of intensity, very fast-paced. And they've got depth, something we definitely don't have."
Central at Mitchell, 7:30 p.m.
The district schedule hasn't been kind to Central (1-5 overall, 0-3 6A-6). The Bears have dropped their past three games by a combined 122-7.
Those contests happen to come against county foes Nature Coast, Hernando and Springstead, all contenders for the district crown.
Central finally ventures out of the county when it travels to Mitchell (5-1 overall, 2-1 6A-6) tonight, but the road gets no easier.
Save for a 36-7 loss to Sunlake two weeks ago, the Mustangs have looked impressive, outscoring their opponents 192-36 in their four wins.
It's no secret how they plan to attack under veteran head coach Scott Schmitz. They've amassed an amazing 1,611 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.
Junior Christian Trididad is the leader with 101 carries for 634 yards and seven scores. Barber ranks second on the team with 54 rushes for 593 yards and three touchdowns.
The senior Barber has additionally hauled in six passes of 161 yards and three touchdowns, all team highs for receiving.
That figures to spell trouble for the Bears, who have yielded an average of 365.7 rushing yards in three previous district clashes.
Central head coach Mike Einspahr could not be reached for comment.