It's officially Week 4 on the football schedule. But for the top four classifications, the season truly starts on Friday night.
District action kicks off across Florida, including a pivotal showdown in 13-6A between area playoff hopefuls New Smyrna Beach (2-1) and Deltona (2-1). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Mainland has traditionally been the king of the all-local district. Should that trend continue, and the Bucs claim the automatic postseason bid, it creates a frenzy for regional wild-card berths.
"We've been talking about it for months, getting off to a good start and setting yourself up in the driver's seat," NSB coach John Wilkinson said.
READ MORE: DeLand stays on top of Fab 5
Last fall, three schools from Miami — Central, Carol City and Norland — earned wild cards in addition to District 16-6A winner Miami Northwestern. Thus, it left 15 programs to fight for the last available spot.
The team that falls short likely faces a steep uphill climb over the final two months.
3 THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
1. Watch your 6
NSB has plenty of exciting players on the roster, but senior Einaj Carter has carried the 'Cudas in the early going.
Carter scored five touchdowns in last week's victory over Titusville — two on the ground, two via interception return and one on a punt. Deltona coach Allen Johnson knows the Wolves' No. 1 priority will be slowing down NSB's No. 6.
"That's going to be hard, man," Johnson said. "And they have a good offensive line. We have our work cut out for us."
2. Breakout receiver
Make no mistake, Deltona is a run-first offense behind the trio of Isaiah Gordon, Jio Reyes and Josh Ramirez. However, the Wolves have generated some balance behind the emergence of senior wide receiver DQ Mitchell.
Mitchell hauled in eight passes for 87 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown in the fourth quarter against DeLand. So far, Mitchell is among the area leaders with 16 receptions.
"He puts in a lot more work now," Johnson said. "I think he got a lot more serious about being a football player, running routes and communicating with the quarterback. It's rubbing off on the young guys."
3. Memorable moments
NSB came away victorious, 24-14, in last year's district opener as Carter caught two touchdowns and Zazion Hudson topped the 100-yard mark. It was the most recent chapter in what's developed into an entertaining rivalry.
In 2015, Deltona gained the lead for good by completing a Hail Mary just before halftime. The win propelled the Wolves to their first playoff appearance in school history. A year later, Deltona scored 28 unanswered points, aided by a pair of pick-sixes, en route to a 42-14 romp.
With so much potentially at stake, Friday's meeting could be another classic.
Chris Boyle (@ChrisBoyleDBNJ): Deltona 28, NSB 23. Record: 24-6
Zach Dean (@ZachDeanDBNJ): Deltona 19, NSB 14. Record: 24-6
Godwin Kelly (@godwinkelly): Deltona 35, NSB 30. Record: 18-12
IN OTHER ACTION
Atlantic (2-0) at Taylor (1-1), 4
The Sharks have still not allowed a point this fall, blanking kickoff classic opponent Crescent City along with Bell and Pine Ridge. Zach McNeely (17 sacks, one interception) and Kenshawn Butler (14 tackles, three sacks) have led the way, while Aaron Manning topped 100 yards through the air and on the ground a week ago. Taylor plays its third consecutive late-afternoon home game due to a hazardous lighting issue. Versatile senior Jaden Reeves has already rushed for 332 yards and five touchdowns, and will be the main focal point of Atlantic's defensive game plan.
Picks: Chris — Atlantic 44-6; Zach — Atlantic 26-7; Godwin — Atlantic 24-14
Halifax (1-2) at Kissimmee Avant Garde (0-2), 5
Halifax hung tough against Cocoa Beach, but was worn down by the Minutemen's rushing attack. The Knights jumped in front on a 39-yard touchdown strike from Jarrett Reddin to Marquez Knighton, and Tyshawn Newton dazzled on an 89-yard punt return score. Avant Garde is coming off a bye week and was outscored, 104-0, in its opening two contests.
Picks: Chris — Halifax 41-7; Zach — Halifax 45-6; Godwin — Halifax 45-13
St. Augustine (1-2) at Flagler Palm Coast (2-1), 7
FPC suffered its first regular-season loss since Oct. 27, 2016, falling 21-0 to Sanford Seminole. The Bulldogs came up empty twice inside the 10-yard line, missing two field goals before halftime. Much like their opponent from last week, FPC should look to take pent-up frustration out on a visiting opponent after a loss. However, St. Augustine is unusually desperate this time of year. The Yellow Jackets have lost consecutive games — to Menendez and Ponte Vedra — for the first time since 1998. Two weeks ago, St. Augustine allowed 62 points, its worst defensive outing in 89 years.
Picks: Chris — FPC 27-14; Zach — FPC 33-17; Godwin — FPC 35-21
Mandarin (1-2) at DeLand (3-0), 7
For the second time in three weeks, DeLand knocked a Volusia County foe out of The Associated Press' Class 6A poll. Dionte Marks' two second-half touchdowns sealed a 31-14 victory at Deltona in the "Battle for the Bone." Marks, a Florida commit, has taken five of his eight receptions to the house, all covering more than 25 yards. Mandarin missed its starting quarterback (Carson Beck) and running back (Terrell Jennings) last week. Demario Douglas is a weapon on both sides of the ball for the Mustangs, with three touchdown catches and two interceptions to his account.
Picks: Chris — DeLand 28-17; Zach — DeLand 28-14; Godwin — DeLand 30-15
Sandalwood (3-0) at Spruce Creek (2-1), 7
Spruce Creek's quest for a third straight playoff trip begins in earnest this week. The Hawks will need to fare well in an extremely tough District 1-8A to have any shot. Terrance McMillon topped the 100-yard rushing mark in Marvin Scott's absence against Matanzas, while Dee'Shari Keith recorded his third interception of the year. Sandalwood averages 421 yards of offense per game, led by Jeff Sims (38-of-75, 516 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT) and Kyjuan Herndon (9.9 YPC, 7 TDs). The Saints are stingy on defense too, creating 11 takeaways with a secondary led by N.C. State commit Jahquez Robinson and Virginia commit Antonio Clary.
Picks: Chris — Sandalwood 42-21; Zach — Sandalwood 31-16; Godwin — Sandalwood 40-24
Mainland (1-2) at Pine Ridge (0-3), 7
Back on the right track after a crucial win at Treasure Coast, Mainland looks to continue its dominance inside District 13-6A. D'Andre McMillian has scored three touchdowns in three consecutive games. USF commit Andrew Plummer punctuated his return in the lineup with a touchdown catch in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Pine Ridge was blanked for the second time. Quarterback Bryce Washington is averaging 2.4 yards per pass attempt, while the Panthers' rushers have combined for an average of 1.3 yards per carry.
Picks: Chris — Mainland 56-0; Zach — Mainland 49-7; Godwin — Mainland 50-6
Matanzas (0-2) at Seabreeze (0-2), 7
Both teams have really struggled in the opening three weeks, but this is a golden opportunity for either the Pirates or the Sandcrabs to turn things around. Opponents have outscored both squads by a combined 172-10. Since becoming district rivals in 2015, Matanzas holds a 3-0 head-to-head record. Sacks stalled the Pirates' first three possessions against Spruce Creek, but Julian Del Castillo broke up the shutout with a 42-yard field goal. Turnovers (five interceptions) and special teams blunders have crippled the 'Crabs. Devondrick Grimes (64 scrimmage yards) has been the lone bright spot on offense.
Picks: Chris — Matanzas 16-10; Zach — Matanzas 14-7; Godwin — Seabreeze 21-20
University (1-2) at Sanford Seminole (2-1), 7
The Titans methodically marched down the field on their opening scoring drive en route to a 29-6 win at Leesburg. Ethan Lasher tossed two more touchdowns, upping his season total to five, while three running backs are topping 6 yards per carry. Seminole gets a Volusia/Flagler opponent for the third consecutive week. Timmy McClain threw a pair of touchdowns, and Javari Frederick gave the 'Noles a two-score lead against FPC late in the third quarter.
Picks: Chris — Seminole 38-7; Zach — Seminole 42-14; Godwin — Seminole 38-14
Father Lopez (2-1) at Cocoa Beach (2-1), 7
Another team facing its third straight Volusia/Flagler school, Cocoa Beach knocked off Halifax behind Ryan Tsarnas' 200-plus yards and five touchdowns. Father Lopez will have to slow down the Minutemen running back in order to pick up this road victory, one which could have major implications in the playoff pursuits of both teams. The Green Wave struggled with Satellite a week ago, but pulled out a 12-3 win behind TJ Lockley's 80-yard strike to Mike Battis and Ryan Utter's pick-six.
Picks: Chris — Father Lopez 27-21; Zach — Father Lopez 35-0; Godwin — Father Lopez 28-10
Trinity Christian (3-0) at Citrus Park Christian (0-3), 7
The Eagles have already eclipsed their win total for 2017 and are knocking on the door of the Class 2A poll. John Davila returned the opening kickoff 75 yards against Cornerstone Charter, and Denzel Chatman tossed two touchdowns. Including the spring game and kickoff classic, Marvin Reyes is riding a four-game interception streak to go along with his 10-for-10 PAT total as a kicker. Citrus Park Christian, an FHSAA independent, has surrendered at least 45 points in all three of its defeats. They opened the season against a Class 5A opponent, Tarpon Springs.
Picks: Chris — Trinity Christian 40-20; Zach — Trinity Christian 35-21; Godwin — Trinity Christian 24-14
Warner Christian (0-2) at Oviedo Master’s Academy (3-0), 7
Warner returns to action after scrapping plans to play Jacksonville Episcopal last week. The young Eagles are yet to light up the scoreboard this fall, allowing 81 points in their opening two games. Master's, on the other hand, has been extremely proficient on offense, topping 49 points in all three games thus far. Senior quarterback Matt Gillis has thrown for 720 yards with 12 touchdowns and only one interception, while freshman running back Terrance Gibbs averages 9.1 yards per carry with seven trips to the end zone.
Picks: Chris — TMA 63-0; Zach — TMA 56-0; Godwin — TMA 21-7