It’s the penultimate week of the 2017 prep football regular season, and playoff spots are on the line. That will certainly be the case Friday night in Port Orange, where Spruce Creek (6-1) welcomes in a 4-3 University team reeling from a loss to Lake Mary.
Why was that loss so important?
It eliminated the Titans from district title contention, meaning a wild-card spot is the only way into the postseason for either team. This 8A area showdown — which hasn’t happened since 2014 — could very well be for a playoff berth. With that in mind, staff writers Zach Dean and Chris Boyle hash out who will win and why. Hint: Zach predicts a University win, while Chris believes Spruce Creek will prevail.
Creek offense vs. University defense
Dean: It’s hard to find any positives with the University defense after laying an egg last Friday against Lake Mary (373 yards, five touchdowns in the first half), but let’s not forget that the they held a very good Seminole offense to just 222 total yards earlier in the week. To compare, the Creek defense allowed over 370 total yards, and 225 on the ground, in the preseason classic loss against Seminole. Granted, the Hawks were playing without some key starters in that game, but it’s still worth mentioning.
It’s hard not to like the University secondary, either. With guys like Micah Mickens, Austin Sweeney, Marlon Harris, Trannoris Davis and Ellias Jacobs, that unit can be fierce.
Boyle: It’ll be a challenge for the Titans to defend the Spruce Creek offense; not so, for me, in this debate. Spruce Creek averages 401.3 yards from scrimmage and 39.1 points per game, and both totals are as good as any program in the area.
Quarterback Kyle Minckler and receiver Hayden Flood form the county’s most dangerous passing combination, already connecting 31 times for 549 yards and nine touchdowns. Jacquez Lord needs just 4 yards to reach 1,000 for the year, and he’s added 10 touchdowns on the ground.
The Hawks are well-balanced, featuring a solid offensive line anchored by tackles Caleb Valentine and Ryan Severinsen. They are a tough cover, especially for a reeling University defense which also gave up 50 points to Oviedo.
Creek defense vs. University offense
Dean: This is the matchup of the game. Can Lorenzo Lingard find success against that always menacing Creek defense? Well, as the saying goes, big time players step up in big time games, and you don’t get much bigger than the No. 2 running back in the country.
Despite the loss to Lake Mary, the Miami commit surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the sixth consecutive game, carrying the ball 22 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Lingard currently leads the area with 1,363 yards and 19 touchdowns, an even more impressive stat when you consider he’s played in only seven games.
Don’t forget about that University passing attack, either. Bite on the play-action just a little, and senior quarterback Cody Braden will hit a usually wide open Jacob Moss for an easy touchdown.
Boyle: No one has truly stopped Lingard, and that’s likely to be the case here again. However, the Hawks need to make him earn every yard and force University into 3rd-and-long situations early in the ballgame.
For as many new starters as the Hawks rolled out this fall, this unit has surpassed expectations. Sophomore linebacker Ty Berrong is a star in the making, taking his third interception of the year 50 yards for a touchdown last week at Mandarin. Senior Jhemez Hull has four picks of his own, and the trio of Logan Monday, Nick Passamonte and Vinny Sneed have combined for 13 sacks.
Braden is a very solid quarterback, but if he throws the ball more than 15 times, that plays right into the Hawks’ hands.
Coach Andy Price vs. Coach Brian Kells
Dean: It’s hard to argue against Andy Price, but don’t overlook fifth-year Titans coach Brian Kells, who’s led University to a 30-17 record since taking over, including three eight-win seasons.
Obviously, the one glaring hole in Kells’ resume is a playoff appearance. However, with Spruce Creek possibly the only thing standing in the way of Kells and that elusive first playoff berth, I think he puts together an all-time game plan for this one.
Boyle: Price, The News-Journal’s 2016 Coach of the Year, became the winningest coach in Spruce Creek history last week. It was a record which had previously stood for more than three decades; Terry Manfredi collected 29 victories from 1977-81.
He’s also built a staff of assistants which includes a handful of former local head coaches, namely defensive coordinator DJ Mayo and offensive line coach Paul Spegele. This team will be well-prepared to combat a tough University opponent.
Dean: University has been an impossible team to figure out that season. One week the Titans are nearly beating Dr. Phillips and taking down Seminole, and the next they’re blowing four-touchdown leads to Oviedo and getting blown out by Lake Mary.
The good news, Titans fans? You’re really, really good coming off a loss. In University’s two defeats this season, the Titans have outscored the next opponent by two touchdowns. With a really, really bad taste in their mouths from a humiliating loss to Lake Mary, I think that pattern could hold up again in this showdown.
Boyle: The biggest intangible at play is big-game experience.
Frankly, University does not have a good track record in do-or-die games (Lake Mary last week, Lake Brantley in 2016, DeLand in 2014, etc.). Until they get over the hump, it’s impossible for the Titans to shake that label.
Spruce Creek, on the other hand, saved its season in double overtime at Mandarin last Friday. The Hawks gave Flagler Palm Coast everything it could handle the week before, and felt shafted for losing in the manner they did. Last Halloween, they edged both Mandarin and Sandalwood in a three-team shootout for the district title.
Confidence will not be an issue for the Hawks. Will the Titans let the past continue to haunt them? That’s the big question.
Dean: University, 28-21
Boyle: Spruce Creek, 28-24