(10) Carol City (7-3) vs. Daytona Beach Mainland (11-0)
Friday at Daytona Municipal Stadium, 7:30 p.m. – Region 4-6A Final

This is easily one of the most intriguing games of the third round. There are a couple of interesting narratives to follow here.

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The first is that this is the first time in three seasons that Daytona Beach Mainland will go on a playoff run and won’t have to worry about running into Miami Central. Mainland has always had its dreams of potentially playing for a state title dashed by the Rockets and now, the figurative “bully” is off the block.

While a loss is a loss is a loss, one has to remember and respect the fact that the Buccaneers have gone 36-5 over the past three seasons – and three of those losses came at the hands of Central.

Mainland is a well-coached team (Scott Wilson) and they have a core group of senior athletes that would want nothing more than to finally make it past a team from Miami-Dade County.

Senior athlete and Western Michigan commit Denzel Houston is Mainland’s trigger man. He’s a typical undersized but super talented dual-threat Florida quarterback; he threw for 2,783 yards and 34 touchdowns while also running for 575 yards and another 11 touchdowns this past season and has put up comparable numbers in 2016.

Carol City rolls into this game having knocked off its bitter rival Northwestern in a thrilling 34-27 game. The Chiefs proved to themselves and to the rest of South Florida that they are a complete team, one that can rise to the occasion in big moments.

It was huge for Carol City’s confidence to go into a game like last week’s regional semifinal without two of its best football players – sophomore running back Nayquan Wright (injury) and senior defensive end Deandre Wilder (age) – and still come out victorious.

In the cliché, “next man up” mentality – it was defensive end Yasiir Abdullah who came away with five sacks and receivers Kevaughn Dingle and Victor Tucker to each pull down two touchdown passes.

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Looking at this matchup, Carol City will likely represent the toughest defense that Mainland has faced this season. The Buccaneers have scored at least 35 points in every game this season whereas the Chiefs have only allowed three opponents to score in double figures this season – two of those instances were against the Bulls.

On the other side of the ball, Wright’s health status is still up in the air. Junior Camron Davis is more than capable of carrying the ground game workload, but having Wright would be a huge boost.

The health of Carol City quarterback Marlon Smith is also in question. He exited the game against Northwestern and was on the sideline as sophomore quarterback Lorenzo Floyd threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Again, Floyd is a capable replacement, but having Smith would be better – he is the starter for a reason.

This is a game where the Chiefs’ “Dark Side Defense 2.0” has to step up. They came up with the necessary stops this past week in a “bend but don’t break” fashion, but this is a game where it needs to be more like the dominant and suffocating group that it was throughout the season.

An added factor that I believe will play in the Chiefs’ favor is that they’ve gone on road trips for games three times already this season. Carol City took trips to Bradenton (IMG Academy, Palm Beach (Oxbridge Academy) and Lakeland – so they won’t be fazed by taking the ride to Daytona and they shouldn’t be overwhelmed by playing in someone else’s stadium in a big-game situation.

Chiefs win a hard fought game.

Bald Prediction = Carol City wins 23-21

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