What does Fort Pierce Central need to do to make it into the playoffs this year?
Coach: Brad Paulson (first year)
2016: 6-3, 1-2 District 8-8A
Returning all-area players: N/A
Players on the TCPalm Super 11: N/A
What we think we know: The Cobras have better leadership than they’ve had the past two seasons. Seniors, such as quarterback Dan Vaughn, center JC Williams, running back Zach Stone and cornerback Ty’Reik Martin have taken the lead this season. Team leadership may not sound like a big deal, but it clearly was a factor why the past two Central teams, although talented, missed the playoffs and tailed off toward the end of the season. Paulson and the coaching staff say this team’s makeup is much different than it was a year ago.
What we’re not sure about: The offensive line. The Cobras struggled early against an aggressive, blitz-heavy Mater Academy defense in the spring game. Vaughn was under pressure and running backs Zach Stone and Zion Lampley were limited to 3.7 yards per carry in a half. Paulson would like to see that number closer to 5 yards per carry. Central’s new up-tempo offense has big play potential, but the line must give Vaughn time to throw and open holes for the backs. Williams anchors the line while Kenny Caneus and Josue Ajusma were spot starters in 2016.
Worth the price of admission: Vaughn. Paulson refers to Vaughn – the younger brother of former Central start and current University of Georgia quarterback Sam Vaughn – as the “straw that stirs the drink.” The dual-threat quarterback’s top targets will be wide receiver Erin Payne and tight end Bradley Bell.
Sports reporter Jon Santucci talks to Fort Pierce Central quarterback Dan Vaughn about what college recruiters can look forward to this upcoming season.
Aug. 18: x-Christopher Columbus Catholic (8A/7-4) at Lawnwood Stadium
Notable: Fort Pierce Central is 14-9 all-time in kickoff classics, including 10 wins in its past 12 preseason games. The Cobras lost to Palm Beach Central 12-3 in 2016, the fewest points the Cobras have scored in a preseason game since a 35-0 loss to Santaluces in 1998.
Aug. 25: x-Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania) (6A/9-3) at Disney’s Wide World of Sports
Sept. 1: South Fork (7A/5-5)
Sept. 8: y-At Martin County (7A/8-3)
Sept. 23: y-Fort Pierce Westwood (5A/3-7)
Sept 28: y-At Treasure Coast (8A/7-4) (D)
Oct. 6: Jensen Beach (6A/3-6)
Oct. 12: St. Lucie West Centennial (8A/2-7) (D)
Oct. 20: x-At Sebastian River (6A/10-2)
Oct. 27: x-Vero Beach (8A/11-1) (D)
Nov. 3: x-At Melbourne Central Catholic (3A/11-1)
(D) 2017 District 8-8A opponent
x-2016 district champion
y-2016 district runner-up
2017 opposition record (regular-season opponents)
69-39, 7 playoff teams (4 district champions, 3 district runners-up)
Welcome back: Fort Pierce Central will play all three Martin County teams. Jensen Beach is back after an eight-year absence (last year’s game with the Falcons was postponed because of weather), South Fork last played the Cobras in 2010 and the Martin County series was shelved after 2013, ending a streak of 31 consecutive seasons. Melbourne Central Catholic is a first-time opponent and Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania) will be only the third out-of-state opponent since the program began in 1970.
District address: Nothing new. Fort Pierce Central, St. Lucie West Centennial, Treasure Coast and Vero Beach remain the four teams in District 8-8A.
Who’s out: x-Clewiston (4A/5-5), x-Tampa Catholic (3A/6-4), x-Wellington (8A/6-4), x-Trinity Christian Academy (5A/11-3, state champion), Bayside (6A/0-10)
Vs. Delaware Valley: First meeting
Vs. South Fork: 17-5
Vs. Martin County: 23-19
Vs. Fort Pierce Westwood: 21-16
Vs. Treasure Coast: 5-4
Vs. Jensen Beach: 2-0
Vs. St. Lucie West Centennial: 8-8
Vs. Sebastian River: 6-6
Vs. Vero Beach: 13-22
Vs. Melbourne Central Catholic: First meeting
Zero deficit: Fort Pierce Central has blanked Fort Pierce Westwood in a staggering six consecutive Showdown meetings since the Panthers won 21-20 before 10,000 fans in 2010 to complete an undefeated regular season. Except for hurricane-shortened seasons in 2004 and 2005, the series has been played every year since 1978.
Defending against Pennsylvania: Fort Pierce Central will open a season against an out-or-state opponent for the first time since 1973 when the Cobras travel to Disney’s Wide World of Sports to play Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania). The Cobras defeated Greenwood (South Carolina) 6-0 in Phil Farinella’s first game as head coach 44 years ago. Delaware Valley went 4-0 in Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna 1 Conference last season and advanced to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.
County rivals: Since 2011, Fort Pierce Central is 6-0 against Fort Pierce Westwood, 5-0 against St. Lucie West Centennial and 4-0 against Port St. Lucie, but only 2-2 against Treasure Coast. The Titans have beaten the Cobras each of the past two seasons.
Martin roll: Fort Pierce Central is 40-24 all-time against teams from Martin County. The Cobras own a two-game winning streak against Jensen Beach (2007-08), an eight-game roll against Martin County (2008-2013, including playoff wins in 2011 and 2012), and a five-game run against South Fork (2004-2006, 2009-10).
No. 500: The Cobras will play their 500th game Sept. 28 at Treasure Coast.
Happy anniversary: This season marks the 25th anniversary of the Cobras’ last state semifinalist team. The 1992 squad, coached by Paul Lombardo, followed a 7-3 regular season with lopsided playoff wins against Cardinal Newman (42-7) and Monsignor Pace (28-13) before losing to Tampa-Jesuit 20-0 in the Class 3A semifinals. That game had the distinction of having three 1,000-yard rushers on the sidelines because of injury.
Fort Pierce Central’s all-time record: 288-207 in 47 seasons (14 head coaches, 1 interim)
Last 10 seasons: 62-39 (.614)
District championships (16): 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1984, 1986, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
State championships (1): 1971 (4A)
Playoff record: 22-22 in 23 appearances. Class 4A state champion, 1971; Class 2A state runner-up, 1970.
Bet You Didn’t Know
Fort Pierce Central has not missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons since 1998-2000.
Fort Pierce Westwood’s football preview.