By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Following a second straight undefeated regular season, Charlotte begins its playoff quest on Friday at home against Boca Ciega.
The path for the Tarpons is fairly similar to last year’s: they have an opening-round matchup against a district runner-up, could potentially face rival Port Charlotte next week, and then they’d likely see Naples again in the regional finals. Naples eliminated the Tarpons from title contention last season.
Although there are many similarities between the teams this year and last year — which have combined to go 19-0 in the regular season – there still are plenty of differences.
Coach Binky Waldrop wasted no time after a season-ending loss to Naples in 2015 before turning the page to this season. It didn’t take long before the coach committed to Dee Hicks, previously a wide receiver and defensive back, as his quarterback even though the rising senior’s skill set didn’t fit the playbook.
“It meant everything to be the leader of the team,” Hicks said. “Coach came to me and asked me. It’s been an awesome experience.”
According to Waldrop, only Jason Cunningham in 1997 was a quarterback with the speed and running abilities of Hicks, in Waldrop’s two-plus decades as a head coach.
“It was a lot of fun,” Waldrop said of redesigning his playbook around his new quarterback, who can cover 40 yards in 4.35 seconds.
“We changed things,” Waldrop said. “Having a mobile quarterback, we’ve done a lot of things different. We’ve never really had someone this mobile, but Dee throws a little better than (Brennan Simms) does.”
During last year’s regular season, Brennan Simms threw for 1,835 yards with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. In one less game this year, Hicks has totaled 881 yards in the air, with nine touchdowns and a pick, while adding 403 yards and five scores with his legs.
“We knew we’d be able to run the ball,” Waldrop said. “We’re still scoring the same amount of points. Our turnover ratio is incredible once again.”
Although that’s few fewer yards and touchdowns to account for, there are many factors contributing to the Tarpons’ continued success.
Hicks and the offense have done a great job tacking care of the football. Add that to Savorion Warren and the defense forcing plenty of turnovers, Charlotte is plus-15 in turnover differential.
Warren’s eight interceptions lead the defense. Jordan Deackoff has six sacks and five tackles for a loss. Cazea Smith has a team-best 71 total tackles.
But on offense, Hicks knows why the Tarpons continued their winning.
“They have to stop Maleek (Williams),” Hicks said. “They have to stop the wide receivers. They have to stop everybody. We have a lot of talent this year, and we’re experienced.”
Williams has rushed to 8.2 yards per carry to lead the area with 1,111 yards and 21 touchdowns. The senior has found the end zone two or more times in 6 of 9 games this year.
THE OTHER TEAM
Boca Ciega (5-3, 4-1 in District 6A-9) finished second in the district, with its only league loss coming against champion Clearwater.
The Pirates are led by a running back duo of David Dawson and Dsoni Ross. Dawson, in six game recorded on MaxPreps, rushed for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. Ross totaled 673 yards and scored 11 times.
Defensively, Landrick Johnson has six sacks in seven games, and dual-threat Sam Thompson has three interceptions.