Going through the history books of Pinellas County high school football, it’s a very storied one at that.
When you shift through the names of the stars that have played on the gridiron within the county, it’s an impressive list that’s currently in the National Football League (NFL).
Tyler Higbee (East Lake) plays tight end for the Los Angeles Rams, Shaquill Griffin (Lakewood) stars for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jeff Smith (Clearwater Central Catholic) lines up at receiver for the New York Jets.
From players reaching the NFL to getting scholarship offers, winning district and regional titles, all of that have been accomplished by county teams. There’s still something missing, though.
The one thing that continues to elude Pinellas County is the elusive state championship. No Pinellas-based team, public or private, has ever won a state crown. Never. Nada. Zilch.
Now there’s two contenders left from the county that are left standing, with Lakewood (Class 2M) and Clearwater Central Catholic (Class 1M) going into the state semifinals Friday night. Neither team is strangers to getting into the state’s final four.
The Spartans have begun to become a regular visitor in reaching the state semifinals as Cory Moore’s bunch has clinched a spot for the third time in the last four seasons. Lakewood defeated Calvary Christian 63-42 in the region finals and has displayed one of the top offenses in the Tampa Bay Area. Now they head into the Class 2M state semis with an offense that’s been playing at a very high level.
Spartans’ quarterback Anthony Colandrea has played spectacularly throughout the playoffs as the Virginia commitment has completed 200-of-312 passes for 2,854 yards and 27 touchdowns. Colandrea has also impressed with his legs, rushing for an additional 539 yards and scored five times.
Lakewood’s skill players have proven to be the difference in the last two games against Tampa Catholic and Calvary Christian, with running back Traquan Johnson (1,041 yards, eight touchdowns) and wide receiver Aviyon Mack-Smith (941 yards, eight touchdowns as the leaders statistically.
Moore’s group will face by far their toughest test of the year when the Spartans travel down to Traz Powell Stadium and face a Miami Central Rockets team that’s been one of the best not only in Florida, but the country. The Spartans will have to find a way to slow down Auburn commit Keyon Jenkins (1,871 yards, 22 touchdowns) and defensive tackle Reuben Bain (34 tackles for loss, 26 sacks).
In the Class 1M state semifinal between CCC and University Christian, the Marauders are coming off a gritty 21-11 victory over a Carrollwood Day team they had to beat for the second time this season. CCC head coach Chris Harvey has reached the semifinals, but never the state title game.
The last time the Marauders reached the state championship game was back in 2013 in a 34-7 loss to Trinity Christian Academy. Harvey’s group will be facing a different team from the Jacksonville area and they’ll feature one of the state’s top running backs in Orel Gray.
Gray has rushed for 1,858 yards and scored 29 touchdowns and the Christians are coming off a 36-27 win over coincidentally, Trinity Christian Academy. The Marauders counter with one of the best rushing offenses when it comes to quarterback-running back duo.
CCC quarterback Jershaun Newton and running back Lenwood Sapp have combined for 2,346 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Newton has been very efficient and careful with the football, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,880 yards, 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
The Marauders have a slew of playmakers on both sides of the ball as Boston College commit Nate Johnson (827 yards receiving; 19 tackles), safety/wide receiver Andy Jaffe (92 tackles; 102 yards receiving) and receiver Julian Allen Jr. (331 yards; 17 tackles).
Both the Spartans and Marauders will have their work cut out for them when they hit the road for respective state semifinal games in different directions. Each program will be in search of clinching the county’s first state title berth since 2014 and in hopes of chasing after a championship Pinellas County has never had before.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Andy_Villamarzo.