By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — The Buffalo Wings and Rings restaurant in Port Charlotte is all decked out in support of the Pirates this week.
The doors and windows are painted in bright red with words simply reading “Pirates,” or in another case, “Fish,” circled with a line drawn through it.
Written on the front doors is the biggest message of all: “Just Say PCHS.”
But the Tarpons have another idea in mind: beat PCHS.
Charlotte High School and Port Charlotte renew their rivalry on Friday night at the Pirates Cove, and for the second straight year, a district title is on the line.
But for the first time ever in their 36 meetings, both teams enter the game undefeated. The stakes simply don’t get any higher in the area’s No. 1 rivalry, with the winner grabbing a district title, a home playoff game and, of course, bragging rights for another year.
“When you add the fact that both teams are undefeated and we’re playing for a district championship, it just adds to it that much more,” Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop said. “This is the third time in the last four years that we’ve played at the end of the season for a district championship so Charlotte County football is something everybody should be proud of.”
Something the Tarpons are pretty proud of is their all-time record against the Pirates, winning 31 of the 35 meetings, including two victories last season. The second came in the regional semifinals, a 41-17 victory just three weeks after the Tarpons rolled over the Pirates 58-8 at home for the district title.
The Pirates have moved on and couldn’t care less about history. The Tarpons don’t care too much about last year’s results either and they expect a much closer contest Friday night.
But it’s a contest they expect to win, nonetheless.
“They’re going to have a grudge on us and a chip on their shoulder, but if we do what we do, we’ll be all right,” Charlotte quarterback Dee Hicks said.
Hicks’ confidence goes back to a single game two weeks ago against North Fort Myers. The Tarpons, who had won their first five games of the year by a combined 165 points, found themselves in a dogfight against the Red Knights and trailing for only the second time all season.
North Fort Myers led 14-7 early in the second quarter and held a 14-10 advantage late in the third before Maleek Williams finally put Charlotte back in front for good late in the quarter. The offense struggled that night, and in a season where it’s looked so easy for the Tarpons so many times, that game was anything but.
“It was a great experience. We struggled and I struggled offensively but my team stood by me and I know when I get down they’re going to be right there with me, and when we get down by points I know we’re not going to quit,” Hicks said.
That game proved to the Tarpons that when the going gets tough against an opponent, they can punch back and respond. And they may have to once or twice come Friday night.
“Yeah no question. That’s the kind of game that we like, down to the wire,” Waldrop said.
The game matches two of the best rushing attacks in the state. The Pirates have scored 20 touchdowns on the ground while the Tarpons have scored 29, led by Williams’ 17.
Hicks has ran for five himself and thrown for eight more in his first year as the starting quarterback after moving from wide receiver in the offseason. He’s ready to experience this rivalry under center for the Tarpons and deliver his program another victory in a rivalry they’ve dominated through the years.
“They’re undefeated. We’re undefeated. I can’t wait,” Hicks said.
Neither can anyone else.