The season hasn’t gone the way Fort Pierce Westwood or Port St. Lucie football teams wanted, but one of these teams is about to have a big change of fortune.
The winner of the District 15-5A finale between the Panthers (1-6, 0-1) and Jaguars (1-6, 0-1) will clinch the runner-up spot in the district and an automatic regional playoff berth.
“We have the opportunity to go to the playoffs and kill the drought at this school, which hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1990,” Port St. Lucie coach Chris Dent said. “These guys can set the tone and our seniors can leave a lasting impression. Our focus is on the playoffs. The kids are excited. They know they have the opportunity and they’re focused.”
The outcome of Friday’s game likely will come down to Westwood running back Marques Burgess — either the Panthers’ ability to get him into the open field or the Jaguars defense’s ability to stop him.
The junior has rushed for 671 yards and four touchdowns this season.
“We’re going to ride him and ride him and ride him,” Westwood coach Aaron Sheppard said. “As he goes, we go. We just have to get him going in any way, shape or form. We’ll throw the deep ball to him if we have to.
“We’ll try swing passes, putting him in the slot. We haven’t moved him around, but it’s crunch time.”
Much of Port St. Lucie’s practice time early this week has been spent on slowing Burgess.
“He’s a hard runner and he’s got a good sense of balance when he runs,” Dent said. “With those two, it makes it hard to bring down. He has a combination of speed and power. We have to get players to the ball and gang tackle him.”
• Jensen Beach has lost six starters with season-ending injuries, including defensive backs/wide receivers Jamien Sherwood (shoulder) and Tyrese Jackson (knee).
“Those kids both go both ways so it will hurt us offensively and defensively,” Falcons coach Tim Caffey said. “It hurts maybe more defensively. We were counting on matching up our athletes with our top athletes, but now we can’t do that. This puts a big plus in their area. You have to manage and see what else you can do.”
• Sebastian River defensive end Jarez Parks (ankle) is expected to play in the District 14-6A finale against Eau Gallie on Friday. He did not play against Port St. Lucie last week. But Sharks coach Kevin Pettis said the team could pull Parks and other starters early to keep them fresh for the playoffs.
“We go into every game to win every game, but at some point, heading into the playoffs, it’s a battle of attrition,” Pettis said. “So you want to save them as much as you can without losing their conditioning.”
“Practice has been more spirited than normal,” Okeechobee coach Chris Branham said. The Brahmans clinched their first regional playoff berth since 2010 and play at Jensen Beach on Friday. “They’re proud of what they accomplished, but there’s not that edge on them where they feel like they’re playing behind the 8-ball. I don’t think we play well with arrogance. Other than Sebastian River, Jensen Beach is the team that worries me the most because they bring so much pressure. They’ll bring eight and they’re 100 percent committed to stopping the run. This is why I wanted to win last week so bad.”