By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — Through seven games of the season, North Port has faced a very difficult schedule.
Palmetto, Braden River and Venice — all district opponents — are arguably the three toughest teams any school in the area has on its schedule.
With three games remaining in 2016, the Bobcats (1-6) could realistically win two of those contests and head into the offseason feeling good about themselves.
“We need to play up to our capability, control the things we can control and continue to move forward,” Coach Brian Hatler said. “Bad things happen in all football games. You need to be able to put those behind you and move on to the next play.”
That’s one area in which North Port has struggled. When one thing goes wrong, instead of brushing it off and moving on to the next play or series, the Bobcats seem to allow it to become a bigger problem.
A textbook example of that came in a Week 3 game against Palmetto Ridge. The Bobcats entered the second half with a 27-14 lead, but one penalty in the third quarter led to another, which led to another, and finally the second-half total hit 11 for 93 yards.
“The big thing for us is that we need to control things that we can control,” Hatler said. “We need to eliminate deadball penalties such as illegal procedure or jumping offside on defense. Those are the things we can control. We need to do a better job at turnovers, and giving up big plays. We’ve made strides in those areas, but we need to improve on consistent play.
With the help of the Bobcats’ mistakes, Palmetto Ridge claimed a 34-27 win.
Two weeks earlier, the season started on the wrong foot in a 40-7 loss against Cypress Lake. Although that one didn’t appear on the scoreboard to be as competitive or heartbreaking as the Palmetto Ridge game, it was.
In that matchup last season, the Bobcats defeated Cypress Lake 28-13, so a win in the opener against a beatable team would’ve gone a long way to setting the tone for the remainder of the year.
“That goes back to playing consistently, and being able to do it for the duration of a game,” Hatler said. “Those things stand out, but I think we can look back at every game and use every game as a learning experience. There are positives in every game, too. Those two obviously stick out, but there are a lot of different things we look at and want to see how we can learn from that experience and get better in the future.”
Despite the 1-6 record, there certainly have been positives to the season.
Quarterback Devon Allen has already thrown for more yards (579) and touchdowns (five) than he did all of last year. Receiver C.K. Poulos averaged nine yards per reception a year ago, and has increased that to 14.5 this season, catching 15 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
In the run game, Octavious Cummings and Javon Howell combined for 464 yards last season. They’ve already totaled 518 yards this year, with three games to add to that total.
Skylar Razwilavich makes a significant impact in nearly every facet of the game, and Dane Balsinger has been a menace on the defensive line.
The good news for the Bobcats is that all six of those players are juniors, and likely will continue to make considerable growth as seniors.
At the end of the day, that’s what Hatler is looking for, even if it doesn’t translate in the win-loss record.
“I think success is a very difficult thing to define in high school athletics,” he said. “We want to compete and we want to win football games. That’s why you play.
“But we also want to see improvement as a team, in the classroom, in the community and on the field. If we’re improving, and making strides, that’s success. We don’t want to go backwards. We want to continue to move forward.”
They have three more opportunities to do that this season.
Charlotte (6-0) at Cape Coral (1-6)
Time: 7 p.m.
Last week: Charlotte 24, North Fort Myers 24-21; Island Coast 49, Cape Coral 7
Last season: Charlotte 42, Cape Coral 0
Players to watch: Charlotte: Dee Hicks (Sr., QB), Maleek Williams (Sr., RB), Savorion Warren (Sr., DB); Cape Coral: Isaac Washington (Sr., RB/DB), Maurice Flournoy (Sr., QB), D.J. Lewis (Sr., WR/LB).
What to expect: Last week was a difficult one for the Tarpons, as they barely beat North Fort Myers. This is a great matchup for them to have to regain momentum, build up confidence, and head into next week’s game against Port Charlotte feeling good. This week is important, though. A win would guarantee a regional berth for Charlotte no matter what happens against the Pirates.
Sarasota (4-3) at North Port (1-6)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Sarasota 7, Lakewood Ranch 2; Palmetto 35, North Port 0
Last season: Sarasota 33, North Port 13
Players to watch: Sarasota: Isaiah Preister (Sr., DB), Bryan Gagg (So., QB), Briyance Adams (Sr. DE); North Port: Skylar Razwilavich (Jr., QB), C.K. Poulos (Jr., WR), Devon Allen (Jr., WR).
What to expect: The Sailors have had the Bobcats’ number over the last few years, but this could be a chance for North Port to grab its first district victory of the 2016 season. Sarasota has been hit or miss this year, so if the Bobcats get off to a hot start, that could go a long way to getting a victory.
Port Charlotte (6-0) at Island Coast (1-7)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Port Charlotte 57, Ida Baker 21; Island Coast 49, Cape Coral 7
Last season: Port Charlotte 48, Island Coast 6
Players to watch: Port Charlotte: Paul Barnes (Jr., QB), Tiyan “Pop” Bush (Sr., LB), Earnest Harvey (Sr., RB); Cape Coral: Kory Curtis (Sr., QB), Jamar Eason (Jr., WR/DB), J.D. Thomas (Jr., LB/DB).
What to expect: The Pirates continue to roll week after week, and hurdle every team they face. This will be a nice tuneup week for them as they get ready to face Charlotte in two weeks. This isn’t a throw away week, though. A win for the Pirates this week guarantees a regional berth no matter what happens against the Tarpons.
Lemon Bay (1-6) at Booker (2-4)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Southeast 21, Lemon Bay 9; Booker 42, DeSoto 6
Last season: Lemon Bay 21, Booker 20
Players to watch: Lemon Bay: Victor Mellor (Sr., ATH), Brayden Curry (Sr., RB), Logan Lydic (Jr., LB); Booker: Jamal Benson (Sr., RB), Javarius Cannon (Jr., LB).
What to expect: This was a win for the Manta Rays last season, so they should be able to pull one out again tonight. Booker has improved much since its team last season, so it’ll be up to the Manta Rays to play a complete four-quarter game if they want to pull out a victory.
Venice (6-0) at Lakewood Ranch (0-6)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Venice 42, Braden River 35; Sarasota 7, Lakewood Ranch 2
Last season: Venice 43, Lakewood Ranch 7
Players to watch: Venice: Court Doss (Jr., RB), Bryce Carpenter (Jr., QB); Lakewood Ranch: Justin Curtis (Jr., QB), Kalen Johnson (Sr., WR).
What to expect: The Indians are finished with its tests of the regular season. They are going to the regional playoffs, and are all set up for their quest to a state championship. What can be said about this game? The Indians are likely going to win by many scores, and will cruise to a victory.
Bayshore (0-6) at DeSoto County (1-5)
Time: 7 p.m.
Last week: Hardee 35, Bayshore 0; Booker 42, DeSoto 6
Last season: Did not play
Players to watch: Bayshore: Miguel Rodriguez (Jr., WR/DB), Dwight Jackson (Sr., WR); DeSoto County: Niron Washington (Sr. RB/DB), Emmanuel Wesley (Sr., WR/DB).
What to expect: This is a week where DeSoto County could easily get a win. Bayshore has lost each of its games so far this year, and the Bulldogs could use another win under its belt. Looks for Niron Washington to have a great game against the Bruin defense.