If you’re a fan of high school football in general, but don’t have a favorite team, there are plenty of games in the area to watch this season. Some of the games involve the best teams in the county, but the games don’t necessarily have to feature playoff-caliber teams to be memorable.
In fact, games involving two average but evenly matched teams can often be more entertaining and exciting than a game featuring two playoff teams when one of them is an elite team that will blow the other out.
So this list could change as the season progresses, but for now, here are the best games to watch each week.
Week 1: Lakeland Christian at Frostproof
This has been a friendly rivalry since former Frostproof coach Shannon Benton left former Lakeland Christian coach Wayne Peace’s team in 2014. The two teams have played each other every year. With this year’s game being the first game of the season, it will be a good test for both teams to gauge where they stand as both are expected to fight for district titles and make big playoffs.
Week 2: Lake Wales at Ridge Community
Both teams have the potential to be among the most powerful attacks in the region. Ridge has its top running back in Joe Jackson, while Lake Wales is expected to counter with the 1-2 punch of Corey Harris Jr. and Jordan Henderson. Both teams have the deepest group at wide receiver this side of Lakeland. Lake Wales, however, has more experience at quarterback.
Week 3: Kathleen at Auburndale
Both teams lost players to transfer and/or graduation, but Kathleen-Auburndale is always a good matchup in most sports. On a night when nearly every Polk team plays out-of-county opponents, this is the best All-Polk game, unless you want to see Lakeland play Winter Haven.
Week 4: Mulberry at Fort Meade
This game has big implications in Class 2S-District 13, which has a chance to be a three-team race with, in no particular order, Frostproof, Fort Meade and Mulberry. The winner of this game gets an early advantage.
Week 5: Auburndale at Bartow
This is not a busy week as six teams have layoffs. Auburndale-Bartow is one of the unrecognized rivalries in Polk County, so even though both teams are rebuilding, it could be an emotional game.
Week 6: Lake Gibson at Lakeland
Lakeland will of course be favored, but there should be a lot of excitement in this game, especially with all the players chasing schools, both ways. The Dreadnaughts are looking to avenge last year’s two losses to Lake Gibson. The Braves want to show their former teammates that they should have stayed in Lake Gibson.
Week 7: Lake Gibson to Lake Wales
Lake Gibson and Lake Wales have been two of the top teams in the county for most years of the past two decades, but haven’t played since 2018, when Lake Wales beat Lake Gibson, 16-13, to break four games losing streak against the Braves. If Lake Gibson’s rebuilding job goes well, this could be one of the best games of the year.
Week 8: Lakeland Christian at Victory Christian
Both private Christian schools have been the top teams in their divisions, often making deep playoff runs. While fans, coaches and players at each school wanted the two teams to play, Victory Church leaders did not allow the game. But with the reclassification, the highly anticipated matchup will take place on Oct. 14 at Southeastern’s Victory Field.
Week 9: Haines City at George Jenkins
Pat Herrington is in the second year of his attempt to return Haines City to being a consistent winner. Paul Freeman is in Year 1 of his attempt to turn Jenkins into a consistent winner. With this game, we will see how successful this year has been for each in reaching their goal.
Week 10: Fort Meade at Frostproof
If Fort Meade and Mulberry each survived their previous tests against Mulberry, then this game will likely be for the district title.
Week 11: Winter Haven at Auburndale
And last but not least before the finals, Winter Haven-Auburndale is one of Polk County’s oldest rivalries. So if the rebuilding work at both schools didn’t go as planned, it could still have a playoff atmosphere. Or you can go see Lake Wales in Bartow.
Roy Fuoco can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.