Prep Football: Spotlight Shines Bright on Winter Haven-Kathleen Matchup
Wed. September 19, 2012 at 10:46 p.m. | By Solange Reyner
By SOLANGE REYNER
WINTER HAVEN | There's a buzz around Winter Haven leading up to the team's first district game against Kathleen tonight, and for good reason.
Bright House Sports Network is airing the match-up, an ESPN correspondent will be in attendance, and Winter Haven just jumped to No. 4 in Class 6A in The Associated Press' state football poll.
And even though the season is really just starting, Winter Haven coach Charlie Tate feels like he's got a pretty special group that could go all the way.
"Time will tell if you're actually that good," Tate said, referring to the No. 4 ranking.
"But the expectations are higher here this year... We would really love to get to the state title game and win it."
But first, the Blue Devils (3-0) will have to take care of Kathleen, a team that's hungry to bounce back from losing a close game last week.
Kathleen's strengths: "They can throw the ball deep really well, they have tall receivers and a quarterback who can take his time and throw," Tate said. "Plus, they're not predictable when they want to hit a home run."
Like they did late in the game against George Jenkins on Sept. 7. Kathleen, which was down all game long, erupted with two huge pass plays to eventually win it. One play went 75 yards for a touchdown, and the other, a 44-yarder to Ja'Von Harrison, put Kathleen in position for the go-ahead score. In that contest, Kathleen had been under a ton of pressure, and quarterback A'Treyu Farrior was sacked eight times. But the Red Devils (2-1) were missing two offensivelinemen. Those linemen – were also out last week against Ridge Community.
"That hurt us because we had a kid in there playing varsity for the first time," Kathleen coach Irving Strickland said after the win against Jenkins.
One of the lineman, Jadarrius Lyons, won't be back for another two weeks. Also last week, Del Baldwin fracutred his leg and is out for the year.
"Playing well on the line is going to be a huge factor because we can't just sit and throw the ball every play," Strickland said. "
Tate said his team took plenty of notes from the Jenkins game and the Ridge game, and he said he was wrestling with what approach he would take with his defensive all week long.
"Ridge was more stingy against the run game, and Kathleen didn't get as many throws down the field against Jenkins," Tate said. "I'm hoping we can be somewhere in between... Hopefully we can create pressure."
His players are ready to do that.
"Their tackles don't go as hard as they need to, so we just have to work hard to get to the quarterback," senior defensive end Zayde Mabin said.
"And we have to contain him because he can run well."
On offense, Winter Haven will take what Kathleen's defense gives it. Last week, running back Adam Lane rushed for only 37 yards, compared with 200-plus the week before, because Jenkins' main objective was to take him out of the game.
He still averaged 7.2 yards per carry, but Tate switched his game plan after the first play, relying more on his air attack, after noticing how Jenkins' defense was stuffing the box.
It worked. Luke Borders threw for 151 yards and three touchdowns, with Kendrick Holland and Hunter Laffin each hauling in 60-plus yards each.
"All our receivers have been doing real good," said Borders, who took over as the starting quarterback this season when his brother, Levi, graduated. "I inherited a lot of talent around me."
He said Kathleen will be a tough team to beat because they always have been, but that this game is not anything out of the ordinary, despite a TV crew out at practice Monday and students riled up about the match-up.
"When you're playing football, you're zoned in," Borders said.
Added Holland: "Having the TV crew here all practice was pretty cool but we have to come out and play the same, like it's a normal game."