It’s the penultimate week of the regular season on the state schedule, but for Seven Rivers Christian that means the beginning of postseason play.

Meanwhile, Citrus and Lecanto want to take some positives as they wrap up their slates, while Crystal River will play its final game of 2021.

SSAC Playoffs First Round

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Seven Rivers Christian at Eagle’s View, 7 p.m.

The first round of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference 11-man AAA playoffs features the fifth-seeded Warriors (6-2) making the trip up to Jacksonville to face fourth-seeded Eagle’s View (6-2), who are also the Warriors.

Seven Rivers head coach Monty Vann said the team is calling this the Road to Redemption, because a win could potentially mean facing top seed Oak Hall, who the Warriors lost to 30-23 on a last-second play on Sept. 10.

In the Nov. 13 final, Seven Rivers could see second-seeded St. Edward’s, who defeated the Warriors last Friday, 51-42.

“It’s all they’re talking about right now. It’s a huge deal for them,” Vann said of his players making a playoff run. “Especially for the seniors. This is the group I had when I first got here. They’ve put in so much work for this.

“They’re sitting there saying they can’t believe we have a shot at this because of what we did four years ago. So it’s a big deal. They know the championship is within their grasp.”

First, though, they have a difficult challenge in Eagle’s View. That’s made tougher by a recent rash of injuries.

Junior Brent Summers, both the team’s leading rusher and tackler, left early in the first quarter last week with a knee injury but will play this week. So will quarterback Nehemiah Vann (hip) and offensive lineman Logan Alford (shoulder), but only on offense.

The defensive loss of Vann and Alford can’t be overlooked. As a starting safety Vann was the one who called out coverages, duties taken over by Aiden Bergstrom. Alford is one of the top defensive linemen and Coach Vann said the team is still searching for someone to fill that void.

Then there are major stylistic differences to overcome. To say Eagle’s View loves to run the ball would be a massive understatement. These Warriors have totaled 3,031 yards and 37 touchdowns on the ground. They’ve thrown the ball a combined 24 times, tallying 144 yards and one score.

Senior Jaylon Hunter has rushed for 1,067 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games. Four more players have at least 375 yards and four touchdowns.

“If they have 100 plays, they’ll run 99 times,” Coach Vann said. “We’ve got to stop the run. They run a single wing. They want to pound it down your throat. We have to play low, we have to play disciplined.”

The Lecanto-based Warriors need to control the clock. Problem is, that goes against their up-tempo, high-scoring style. Nehemiah Vann has 1,570 yards passing and has thrown for 20 touchdowns. Mario Aguilera (41 catches, 740 yards, 12 TDs) and Alex Eden (24 catches, 586 yards, 6 TDs) are his primary targets.

Granted Seven Rivers has had success running the ball, with Summers at 710 yards and six rushing touchdowns. But they aren’t exactly a group that grinds it out offensively.

“It’s hard. I have to put that on me and not on the players,” Coach Vann said. “I think we can (play that way). We’ve repped it all this week.

“… I think we’re starting to figure out we’ve got to condition them to play slow, which sounds weird, but we’ve got to do it.”

Citrus at Dunnellon, 7:30 p.m.

The Hurricanes (2-6) have responded with some inspired play in the resumption of their season, winning in OT at Crystal River and in a homecoming blowout over Lake Weir.

“There’s always momentum coming from a win. But we’re playing a good Dunnellon football team and we have to play our best game,” Citrus head coach McKinley Franklin said. “They have some playmakers. They run quite a few different sets, give you a few different looks. You play a guessing game with them.

“The kids have to play assignment football and swarm to the ball. Hopefully they don’t get on the outside of us, because they’re pretty fast.”

Dunnellon (6-2), coming off a Final Four appearance in 2020, has won six straight since starting off the season at 0-2, and ranks eighth in RPI for Class 5A. The Tigers have found success this season with a balanced offense, led by senior quarterback Trent Townsend (51% completion, 854 yard, 7 TDs, 3 INTs), and defense that has 23 sacks, 11 interceptions and six fumble recoveries.

Unlike Crystal River, though, Citrus doesn’t have the same historical rivalry with the Tigers.

“It’s more they’re a good football team, let’s go and give it what we have,” Franklin said. “Our kids get better each week and we’ll play this game like we have nothing to lose.”

Sophomore Colton McNeely has a chance to surpass 1,000 yards rushing for the ’Canes. He currently sits at 889 yards in just six games played, coming off 227 yards last week.

“We’ve run the ball decently. We’ve even had some passes completed,” Franklin said. “Our strength is our kids play tough. It’s nothing fancy.

“… What I want to see from our kids the last couple of game is walk with our heads high and be Citrus Hurricanes. Nothing else. It’s not all about wins and losses. I’m not there. It’s all about the kids’ character, how they represent the school, how they represent their families, how they live their lives and carry themselves as young men.”

Lecanto at Pasco, 7:30 p.m.

The Panthers (3-5) get senior running back Luke Malmberg back after he missed most of the last two games with a separated shoulder.

Malmberg had rushed for 903 yards and 13 touchdowns over Lecanto’s first six games before his injury knocked him out in the first quarter two weeks ago. Without him, the Panthers have lost two in a row, getting outscored 81-12.

“We’ll play it by ear. He’s going to give us feedback and make sure we do what’s best for him,” Lecanto head coach Wyndell “Chop” Alexander said. “We don’t want to push too hard and jeopardize his future.

“The line seems to block harder, block better. He makes the offense click. If we’ve got him in the game we know we can put drives together.”

Darius Gainer, who filled in for Malmberg until injuring his ankle last week against Springstead, will also play this week.

Pasco started the season along with the Panthers in District 6A-5, but injuries left the Pirates so depleted last month they had to forfeit against district foe Vanguard and give up their postseason eligibility.

It’s been ugly for Pasco, who is 0-8 with two forfeits and has scored six points all season. It’s a far cry from the team that beat Lecanto in last year’s playoff opener, 9-8.

“I know they’ve got a good quarterback. They come in crazy formations,” Alexander said. “Defensively, they run a 3-4 defense. They cover receivers well and swarm to the football.

“We don’t allow their record to reflect how good they are on film.

“… They’re the team that beat us last year. That’s always a carrot we can dangle in front of the kids. We’ve got three wins under our belts, we’re looking for four wins.”

Leesburg at Crystal River, 7 p.m.

With a bye next week, this the end of the line for the Pirates (3-6, 1-1 5A-5). They broke a two-game slide last week with a 27-24 win over South Lake.

“We didn’t meet our own expectations this season. We’re not going to reach all our goals,” Crystal River head coach Cliff Lohrey said. “But we have one last opportunity as a team, as a family, as a brotherhood to compete with a very good Leesburg team and do it at home and it’s Senior Night. It’s still a special opportunity.”

The Yellow Jackets (5-3, 1-1 5A-5) are reeling after losing to Dunnellon, but they’re seventh in the region in RPI and still in a position to make the playoffs.

“Coach (Mark) Oates has done a really outstanding job considering they were 0-8 a year ago,” Lohrey said. “Now they’re still in the mix for a playoff berth. It’s a really impressive turnaround.

“They have tons of athleticism on both sides of the ball. They have good balance and defensively they run to the football. We have to play an outstanding game.”

The Pirates will have sophomore running back Joel Velazquez (590 rushing yards, 6 TDs) back after he sat out last week.

“The goal of any coach, of any program, of any player is you want to improve from the first game to the last game,” Lohrey said. “I want to see us put a complete game together. I want to see our effort be outstanding. I want to see our body language be positive. And I want to end on a note deserving of the work they’ve put in, even if the results weren’t what we desired.”

Prep Zone

Get updates and player profiles ahead of Friday's high school games, plus a recap Saturday with stories, photos, video Frequency: Seasonal Twice a week

Contact Chronicle sports reporter Chris Bernhardt at 352-563-5660, or on twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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