FHSAA Football Playoffs – Week #1 Previews
By: Marty Pallman (Class 5A-8A) and Mike Ridaught (Class 1A-4A)
Date: Friday, November 15
8A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
Lake Brantley (Altamonte Springs) (7-3) at First Coast (Jacksonville) (9-1)
Coach Marty Lee has his First Coast Buccaneers in the playoffs for the ninth straight year. First Coast’s best finish was a trip to the 7A state championship game in 2011, where they were blown out by Bradenton Manatee. Last year First Coast had a 10-0 regular season, but was upset in the 7A regional quarterfinals by Buchholz. The Bucs were 9-1 this year, with the only loss 18-10 at Raines in overtime back on Sept. 13. As usual, First Coast played a gauntlet of a schedule with wins over playoff teams Ribault, Fletcher, Sandalwood and Ed White. The Bucs rallied to win at Sandalwood 40-21 on Nov. 1 to clinch District 1-8A, then came back again last week to win at Ed White 39-21 and end the Commanders 8 game winning streak. First Coast finished ninth in Northeast Florida in offense averaging 385 yards a game, and actually threw for almost 800 more yards than the Bucs rushed for in 2013. Junior quarterback Deandre Johnson, an FSU commitment, is the second leading passer in Northeast Florida. Johnson completed 155 of 223 passes for 2,295 yards and 26 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Johnson also rushed for 4 more scores. The Bucs have a running back-by-committee system, with Jaha McCray rushing for 726 yards and 8 TD’s, averaging over 11 yards a carry. Johnson likes to spread the ball around. Tristan Payton, Tyrone Woods, Jerad Washington and DJ Matthews have combined for almost 2,100 yards and 23 TD’s through the air. The First Coast defense is solid as always, pitching three shutouts and holding two other teams under 10 points. The Bucs did allow 34 points to Flagler Palm Coast, but won that game in overtime. Safety Reagan Northrup leads First Coast on defense. Lake Brantley finished 7-3 and runner-up in District 2-8A after losing 37-28 at Lake Mary on Oct. 4. George Clayton has Lake Brantley in the playoffs for the ninth straight year. The Patriots were 6A runner-up in 2006, losing to Miami Northwestern.
Sandalwood (Jacksonville) (8-2) at Lake Mary (10-0)
The Saints hit the road as a district runner-up after a 40-21 loss to First Coast two weeks ago. Sandalwood’s only other loss was in overtime at 7A playoff team Fletcher on Sept. 13. Other than those losses Sandalwood rolled through the rest of its schedule with the closest win 26-17 over 8A-1 district rival Flagler Palm Coast. Saints are led offensively by dual-threat quarterback DJ Davis, who threw for over 1,500 yards with 22 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions and also rushed for over 900 yards and 9 touchdowns at an almost 8 yard a carry average. DeSean Blair and Devin Johnson are both threats at wide receiver, combining for over 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns. Sandalwood’s offense ranks fifth in the area at 422 yards a game of total offense. The Saints defense is also one of the toughest in the area, ranking 7th averaging 190 yards allowed a game, and has forced 23 turnovers. Sandalwood is +15 in turnover margin and led by linebacker Kain Daub. Sandalwood last won a playoff game in 2006 under longtime coach Adam Geis. Lake Mary went through the season undefeated but had some close calls, including a three point win over Kissimmee Osceola and four point victories over DeLand and Orlando Olympia.
7A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
Oak Ridge (Orlando) (7-3) at Fleming Island (Orange Park) (10-0)
Fleming Island made it through the regular season 10-0 and won District 3-7A. The Golden Eagles had some close calls, beating rival Clay 17-14 in overtime in week 1 and scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter to rally past district rival Atlantic Coast by the same score of 17-14. A 28-14 win over Fletcher on October 17 served as the district championship clincher. Quarterback Mike Scarnecchia, a South Carolina commitment, leads a Fleming Island offense that averages almost 35 points a game and hammered rival Orange Park 42-0 in the season finale. Fleming Island’s defense is also solid, pitching two shutouts against Middleburg and Orange Park and 14 points is the most points the Golden Eagles have allowed. In his second season, Frank Hall has led Fleming Island to its first undefeated season since 2010, when the Golden Eagles made a trip to the state semifinals. Fleming Island is also in the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Oak Ridge, coached by former San Francisco 49’ers and Seattle Seahawks running back Ricky Watters, finished 7-3 and finished as a runner-up to Winter Springs in District 4-7A. Winter Springs beat Oak Ridge 25-20 to win the tiebreaker for the district title. Oak Ridge also lost to Central Florida powers Apopka and West Orange early in the season. The Pioneers bring in a high-powered offense, scoring 40 or more points three times and over 30 points in two other games. Oak Ridge is back in the playoffs for the first time since a 10-2 record and a trip to the regional semifinals in 2010.
Fletcher (Neptune Beach) (8-2) at Winter Springs (6-4)
The road warrior Senators are back in the playoffs as a district runner-up for the third straight year. In 2011 Fletcher won at Lake Brantley, DeLand and Timber Creek before losing in the 8A state semifinals to eventual state champion Tampa Plant. Last year, Fletcher won again at Lake Brantley and then at Sanford Seminole before returning home and losing in the 8A regional final at home to eventual state champion Apopka. The Senators dropped down to 7A, but once again qualified as the District 2-7A runner-up after losing at Fleming Island 28-14 on Oct. 17. Fletcher’s other loss was a close 19-16 loss at 8A-1 district champ First Coast in week 2 and also has wins over playoff teams Sandalwood and Raines. Quarterback Luke Medlock leads the Senators offense, throwing for 1,347 yards with 14 TD’s and 6 INT’s, while adding six touchdowns on the ground. Abereon Brown is Fletcher’s leading rusher with 617 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Kalif Jackson the Senators leading receiver with 531 yards and 8 scores. In fact, Jackson had a big night in the playoff-clinching win against Oakleaf by hauling in five catches for 94 yards and two TDs in the 27-16 win. Josh Corey’s team averages 323 total yards a game with rushing and passing totals fairly even. Defensively, Fletcher allowed 238 yards a game and forced 22 turnovers for a +10 turnover margin. The Senators allowed more than 20 points in only three games in 2013, against Sandalwood, Fleming Island and Buchholz. Jesse Liptrot had 4 interceptions and Bay Gannon 3 to lead the Fletcher defense. Codan Breckenridge leads Northeast Florida in kicking, making 9 out of 14 kicks with a long of 52 yards. Winter Springs is only 6-4 but finished 5-1 in District 4-7A and won the district title on a head-to-head tiebreaker after beating Oak Ridge 25-20. The Bears enter the playoffs winning three of its last four games but are coming off a 35-28 loss to Longwood Lyman last week. Rodney Brewington has turned the Winter Springs program around after back-to-back 1-9 seasons in 2011 and 2012. The Bears are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
6A, Region 1 Quarterfinals, Nov. 15
Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (5-5) at Ed White (Jacksonville) (8-2)
In his first season as head coach of his alma mater, Paul Pierson has Ed White back in the playoffs after a two year absence. The Commanders lost their first game of the season, 7-2 at Raines, and their last game of the season, 40-21, last week at home to First Coast. Ed White led First Coast 21-20 at halftime a week ago, but threw an interception on the first play of the second half and never got back on track, as they were outscored 20-0 by the Bucs after halftime. Ed White won eight games in a row between those two losses to win the District 3-6A title. The Commanders were dominant, winning 84-0 over Lee and 62-14 over Parker, and handed Columbia it’s only loss of the season 34-17 on Oct. 11 to clinch the district title. Ed White pitched four shutouts defensively and allowed Raines only 7 points in the season-opening loss. White’s defense was in the top 10 in Northeast Florida, allowing only 193 yards a game and forcing 28 turnovers. In their 62-14 win over Parker in Week #9, they had a fumble return and an interception return for a score. Plus, Javonte Ferguson took a kickoff back 90 yards for a score. During their win streak, the Commanders scored 13 times on defense and special teams and set-up scores for their offense. Darrius Woods paced the Commanders defense with three interceptions, with Corey Hagans and Tyler Thomas adding two picks apiece. Offensively Ed White is a run-first team, rushing for 2,886 yards and averaging 379 yards of total offense a game. Taylor Thomas is the leading ground gainer, rushing for 876 yards on only 63 carries, an average of almost 14 yards a carry and scoring 7 touchdowns. Davon Patterson adds 439 yards on the ground with 8 scores. Three other running backs have also rushed for over 100 yards for the Commanders. Quarterback Eric Vickers is a game manager, throwing for 831 yards with 12 TD’s and 4 interceptions. After an 0-5 start, Bartram Trail won its last five games to finish as the runner-up to St. Augustine in District 4-6A. But the Bears can’t be too ashamed about that opening losing streak, as they lost to playoff teams Bishop Kenny, Fleming Island, Seabreeze and district rival St. Augustine. Unfortunately the Bears lost a shot at the district title after blowing a big lead to their long-time nemesis St. Augustine. In its five game winning streak Bartram Trail has scored 31 or more points in four of those games. Bartram Trail’s offense if sixth in Northeast Florida averaging 420 yards a game. David Coleman rushed for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 9.7 yards a carry. Quarterback PJ Blazejowski is the second leading rusher with 626 yards and 9 touchdowns while throwing for 1,594 yards and 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Receivers Romello Bentley and Karl Thomas have combined for 910 yards and 9 scores. Bartram Trail has struggled at times defensively, allowing 47, 38 and 49 points in the opening three game losing streak. But in the five game winning streak the Bears allowed less than 21 points in four of those games. This is the 11th consecutive playoff appearance for Darrell Sutherland’s team, with their best finish the state semifinals in 2011 and 2007. This may be Bartram Trail’s toughest first round game in that period, though.
Columbia (Lake City) (9-1) at St. Augustine (8-2)
This may be the best regional quarterfinal game in the area. Columbia first made a statement that they were back in Brian Allen’s first year as head coach in 2011, winning at St. Augustine 24-9 in the regional quarterfinals before losing to Bartram Trail in the next round. Last year, Columbia waxed St. Augustine 34-8 in Lake City in the regional semifinals before losing at Navarre a week later in the 6A regional final. So here we go again. Columbia comes in 9-1, but that one loss to Ed White 34-17 on Oct. 11 put the Tigers in as the runner-up in District 3-6A. Columbia book-ended its season with two impressive wins over playoff teams, 49-7 over defending 6A state runner-up Gainesville in week one and 35-7 last week at rival and playoff team Suwannee. The Tigers also won at defending 7A state runner-up Tallahassee Lincoln 28-14 in week 2. Columbia averages 332 yards total offense a game, but ran for 1,400 more yards than they threw for. That running game is paced by one of the best running backs in the area, Lonnie Underwood. Underwood rushed for 1,433 yards and a Northeast Florida leading 30 touchdowns while averaging almost 8 yards a carry. But Underwood kind of struggled in the second half of the season after a huge first half of 2013. Tigers quarterback Nathan Taylor doesn’t make many mistakes, throwing for 870 yards with 9 TD’s and only 3 picks. Roger Cray paces the Columbia defense with 3 interceptions, with Terry Calloway adding two picks. Zedrick Woods is a one man wrecking crew with 94 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. Columbia’s defense has been dominant for the most part with two shutouts and four other games allowing 10 or less points. The only hiccup was the 34 points allowed to Ed White. The beat rolls on for Joey Wiles and St. Augustine. The Yellow Jackets lost their opening game 40-0 to 3A state power Trinity Christian, but then won eight in a row and rolled to the District 4-6A title. St. Augustine hasn’t lost a district game in 10 years (43 district wins in a row), and has been in the playoffs every year of the new millennium, with a state title in 2005. But the regular season ended with a 23-20 overtime loss to rival Palatka at home in triple overtime. This may not be Wiles best team at St. Augustine, but here they are once again in the postseason. St. Augustine is powerful offensively, with 4 games over 40 points. The Yellow Jackets average 332.2 yards a game, the exact same number as Columbia, but they are more balanced than the Tigers. Patrick Stewart leads St. Augustine on the ground with 829 yards and 9 touchdowns. Quarterback Cole Northrup is one of the top passers in the area with 1,817 yards, 23 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Leading receiver Lashaud Lockwood is third in Northeast Florida with 993 yards and has caught 15 touchdowns. He’s a big-play threat, averaging 26 yards a catch. Defensively St. Augustine struggled early in the season, allowing 40 points to Trinity Christian, 27 to Ridgeview and 27 to Bartram Trail. Those last two games were wins, however, and in the last six games of the season the Yellow Jackets allowed only 58 points. Again this game should be intriguing.
6A-Region 2 Quarterfinals
Sunlake (Land O’Lakes) (9-1) at Gainesville (8-2)
The defending 6A state runner-up Gainesville Hurricanes have been up and down at times in 2013, but still won another District 5-6A title in Coach Mark Latsko’s first season. Gainesville was blown out 49-7 at Columbia in week one, but then won 8 in a row and clinched their fourth district title in five seasons with a 38-16 win over previously undefeated Citrus on Oct. 25. Senior running back and Oregon commitment Tony James makes the Canes offense go. James rushed for over 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns with a long of 93 yards and averaging 7.5 yards a carry. James ran for over 200 yards in the win over Citrus. Sophomore quarterback Caelen Christian is solid if not spectacular, throwing for 744 yards with 12 TD’s and 9 INT’s. Senior speedster Kenric Young is Gainesville’s leading receiver with 19 catches for 380 yards and 6 TD’s through the air. Unfortunately Gainesville will be without another offensive weapon as Dontarian Evans went out early in the loss to Wakulla last week and will be out for the Sunlake game. Gainesville has won despite penalty and turnover issues at times, and their defense has been very good again in 2013. Malion Waddell leads the Hurricanes D with 111 tackles, and Jordan Giberti had 13.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. Young is also the leader in the GHS secondary with 5 interceptions. After allowing 49 points in the opening loss to Columbia, Gainesville allowed 88 points in the 8 game winning streak. Gainesville also has wins over Tallahassee Lincoln and Vanguard on the road, as well as winning another city title with easy victories over Buchholz and Eastside. Sunlake comes in 9-1 with the only loss a one point setback, 14-13 at Springstead back on Sept. 20. Unfortunately that one loss cost the Seahawks the District 6-6A title and sent Sunlake on the road for the playoffs. Sunlake has only been a school since 2007, but is 9-1, 10-2, 8-2 and 9-1 in the last four seasons under coach Bill Browning. This is a rematch of the 2011 6A regional semifinals, won by Gainesville 21-14 at Citizens Field.
Citrus (Inverness) (9-1) at Springstead (Spring Hill) (9-1)
This is a matchup of two 9-1 teams who met in week one. Citrus handed Springstead it’s only loss of the season to this point 42-14. Citrus is in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, where the Hurricanes were drilled by North Marion in the 3A regional quarterfinals 68-7. The last playoff win for Citrus was in 2004, also against North Marion. Rayburn Green’s team rolled through the first seven games, with road wins over Dunnellon and Vanguard. But Citrus lost at Gainesville 38-16 on Oct. 25, giving Gainesville the District 5-6A title and sending Citrus on the road for the postseason. Quarterback Deion Moore completed only 43% of his passes, but passed for 16 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Moore also rushed for 276 yards and four TD’s. James Pouncy led Citrus on the ground with 816 yards and nine touchdowns. The Franklin brothers are the leading receivers for Citrus, combining for 911 yards and 11 scores through the air. Sam Knowles is a one-man wrecking crew on defense with 112 tackles, 39 tackles for loss and 20 sacks. Gabe Wilcox leads the Citrus secondary with 5 interceptions. Springstead is in the playoffs for the second straight year and third time in four years. The Eagles ripped off nine wins in a row after the first week loss to Citrus, and have scored 30 or more points in the last six games. A 14-13 win over Sunlake on Sept. 20 basically wrapped up the District 6-6A championship. Springstead lost to Vanguard 31-8 last year in the 6A regional quarterfinals.
6A-Region 3 Quarterfinals
Lake Minneola (4-6) at Mainland (Daytona Beach) (9-1)
Mainland and the state playoffs are a yearly tradition, as the Buccaneers have made the postseason every year since 1993, with a 5A state title in 2003. Mainland is 9-1 in 2013, with the only loss a close 6-0 setback at state-ranked Plantation American Heritage. Coach David Wilson’s Bucs did squeak by New Smyrna Beach 14-13 on Oct. 18, then won at cross-town rival Seabreeze 17-0 to clinch the District 9-6A title two weeks later. Mainland comes into the playoffs after rallying to beat the third-ranked team in 8A Fort Pierce Central 31-28 last week. Last year the Bucs entered the playoffs as a district runner-up to New Smyrna Beach, but went on the road to beat Lakeland Lake Gibson and Winter Haven before falling at Naples in the 6A regional finals. Mainland made it to the state semis in 2011. This Bucs team is led by Trey Rodriguez, who is the running back but also now lining up at quarterback for Mainland. DJ Copeland is the leader in the Mainland secondary, but has also become the Bucs big-play receiver. Mainland trailed Fort Pierce Central 28-14 going into the fourth quarter last week before Rodriguez came alive at QB. Defensive back Meiko Dotson had two interceptions in the comeback. Despite a 4-6 record, Coach Corey Brinson has Lake Minneola in the state playoffs in only their third year as a school. The Hawks overcame a four game losing streak in the middle of the season to make it to the postseason. A 7-3 win over South Lake and 31-23 win over Orlando Edgewater was enough to get Lake Minneola into the playoffs despite a 35-7 loss at Leesburg two weeks ago that relegated the Hawks to the runner-up position in District 10-6A. Lake Minneola isn’t a high-scoring offense, with their high point total in a 42-7 win over Clermont East Ridge last week in the regular season finale. Running back Desmond Johnson leads Lake Minneola with over 1,000 total yards and 13 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jesse Fiske led the Hawks with 1,646 yards passing and 8 TD’s with 10 interceptions.
Seabreeze (Daytona Beach) (7-2) at Leesburg (7-3)
Seabreeze is back in the playoffs for the second time in three years, and may be one of the best district runner-ups in the state with a 7-2 record. The Sandcrabs missed out on the District 9-6A title with a 17-0 loss to cross-town rival Mainland on Nov. 1. Their only other loss was 62-21 to state power Cocoa. Seabreeze made its longest run to the playoffs in 2008, losing in the 4A state semifinals to Tallahassee Lincoln. Coach Marc Beach’s Sandcrabs are led offensively by wide receiver Charles Nelson, who has offers from Florida and Southern Cal. Quarterback Connor Blair is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and has thrown for 1,519 yards through the air and is a strong, athletic quarterback. The Seabreeze defense is led by seniors Dorian Gonzalez and Chayce Hamilton. The Sandcrabs biggest win is 49-36 at 5A playoff team Bartram Trail on Sept. 27. After moving down from 7A to 6A, Leesburg is in the playoffs for the second year in a row and won the District 10-6A title with a 35-7 win over Lake Minneola on Nov. 1. Coach Randy Trivers Leesburg team was ousted 34-31 in overtime at Oviedo last year in the 7A regional quarterfinals. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 30-10 loss at undefeated South Sumter last week in the final regular season game. This could be another game to watch in the opening round of the state playoffs.
5A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
Palatka (6-4) at Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (9-0)
Bishop Kenny (9-0) finished undefeated for the second time in three years. In 2011, the Crusaders went 10-0 but were upset by Creekside 30-27 in 5A regional quarterfinals. Last year BK entered the playoffs as the District 3-5A runner-up but beat Ponte Vedra and Baker County on the road before losing in the 5A regional final to eventual state champion Tallahassee Godby. That was the longest run in the playoffs in school history for Bishop Kenny, as they had previously won only one playoff game. Bishop Kenny is in the postseason for the fifth straight year under Coach Mark Thorson, and also have three district titles in the last four seasons. The Crusaders swept through their 8 team district in 2013, with the closest game a 42-29 win at Ribault on Oct. 4. Bishop Kenny is led by four-year starting quarterback John Wolford, who leads Northeast Florida with 2,426 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and has rushed for another 598 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 10.5 yards a carry. Wolford set the state record for touchdowns passes and completions in Bishop Kenny’s 38-20 district-clinching win over Baker County on Nov. 1. The Crusaders have the number one offense in Northeast Florida, averaging almost 456 yards a game and also lead the area in passing yards with only six turnovers. Running back Cam Singletary is Kenny’s leading rusher with 803 yards and 14 scores, while wide receiver Charles Wade is second in Northeast Florida with 1,024 yards and 13 touchdowns, an average of 21 yards a catch. Bishop Kenny is solid defensively as well, allowing 212 yards a game and is +9 in turnovers. It’s a balanced defense individually, as Josh Johnson leads the Crusaders with 53 tackles, Patrick DePirro with 7 sacks and John Helow chips in with three interceptions. Palatka is in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Panthers last won a playoff game in 2002 under long-time coach Jim McCool, and won the 3A state title in 1981 under Robert Lyle. In his second year as Palatka coach, Willie Offord led the Panthers to a runner-up spot in District 4-5A. After starting 2013 with two losses to Vanguard and Trinity Catholic, Palatka won four in a row. The Panthers dropped the next two games, 16-0 to Flagler Palm Coast and 42-31 to Clay, and the Clay loss cost Palatka a shot at the district title. The Panthers rebounded to beat Ponte Vedra and clinch a playoff spot, and upset rival and 6A playoff team St. Augustine 23-20 in triple overtime last week for their first win over the Yellow Jackets since 2003. Palatka will be run, run, run, and run a lot of option at Bishop Kenny led by running back Jatwan Honor. Honor scored the winning TD against St. Augustine a week ago in the third extra period.
Ribault (Jacksonville) (7-3) at Clay (Green Cove Springs) (6-4)
This regional quarterfinal matchup in Class 5A is a definite contrast in styles. Ribault, led by QB D.J. Gillins, a Wisconsin commitment, threw for more than 1,000 yards than they rushed for in 2013. On the other hand, Clay (6-4), who won the District 4-5A title, rushed for more than 3,000 yards to lead Northeast Florida but passed for only 539 yards. The Trojans finished runner-up to Bishop Kenny in District 3-5A and are back in the state playoffs for the first time in three years. The Trojans three losses were to playoff teams First Coast, Bishop Kenny and Raines. Ribault dropped the Northwest Classic to rival Raines 40-25 last week. Gillins, who transferred to Ribault this season from Eagle’s View, was the third leading passer in Northeast Florida with 2,293 yards, 22 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Gillins was also the Trojans leading rusher with 456 yards and 6 scores on the ground. Tyrell Mitchell is Ribault’s leading receiver with 690 yards and 7 touchdowns, with big Julius Smith chipping in with 431 yards and 4 TD’s. Coach Anthony Flynn’s Ribault defense is tough, allowing 171.4 yards a game, good for sixth in Northeast Florida. Antonio Sirmans leads the Trojans defense with 4 interceptions, 1 for a TD. Ribault hasn’t won playoff game since 1994. Clay is back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. The Blue Devils lost at Ponte Vedra in the 5A regional quarterfinals in 2011. Clay made the playoffs four out of five years from 2007-2011 with their farthest advancement to the 3A regional finals in 2003. As said above, Coach Josh Hoekstra’s Blue Devils are going to run, run and then run again. Shannon Asbell leads a four-headed attack with 945 yards and 15 touchdowns. Next is quarterback Wes Weeks with 692 yards and 11 more scores. JT Turner adds 471 yards and 2 TD’s and Bilal Ally chips in 420 yards and 4 touchdowns. Weeks has thrown for only 531 yards but has only thrown 2 interceptions. Clay’s defense has struggled at times, allowing almost 361 yards a game, but have 19 takeaways with only 5 turnovers for a +14 margin. The Blue Devils won District 4-5A in a tiebreaker as they beat Palatka 42-31 on Oct. 25. Menendez’s win over Ridgeview the following week clinched the district for Clay. The Blue Devils have allowed 21 or more points in every game but one in 2013, and allowed 30 or more points four times.
5A-Region 2 Quarterfinals
Pasco (Dade City) (7-3) at North Marion (Citra) (8-2)
Can North Marion finally get past playoff nemesis Pasco? Pasco eliminated North Marion 34-10 in last year’s 5A regional quarterfinals, and also ended the Colts 2011 season with a 31-28 win in Citra in the regional semifinal round. Pasco also shocked North Marion 13-12 in the 3A regional finals in 2008. The Colts have continued their fine play despite a coaching change, as Matt Johnson took over for long-time coach Craig Damon after North Marion’s 21-20 win at Vanguard in week 2. Damon left North Marion to take a job with the FHSAA. The Colts dropped Johnson’s first game as coach at Bolles 50-14 the following week and then lost at Eastside two weeks later 13-10. North Marion has won five games in a row since the Eastside loss, and allowed only 37 points in that span as they clinched District 5-5A. The closest game in that span was a 14-7 win at Santa Fe, and their 27-14 win over Suwannee on Oct. 20 gave North Marion the district tiebreaker over the Bulldogs. North Marion hasn’t always played well offensively, but has plenty of play-makers in James Allen, Derrick Harmon or Shaq Autry. Jack Reed and Cam Mackey can also score from anywhere on the field. Defensively the Colts are led up front by Brandon Roberts, Mikavis Mitchell, James Roberts and Shaun Gibbs on the defensive line, and linebackers Alex Williams, Eugene Glover and De’montae Jackson, who are North Marion’s leading tacklers. The Colts have allowed more than 20 points in only the Bolles game. The Pasco Pirates finished as runner-up to undefeated South Sumter in District 6-5A. A 24-16 win at Zephyrhills gave Pasco the tiebreaker as the runner-up. The Pirates dropped two district games, 38-14 at South Sumter and 29-28 at Nature Coast Tech, and lost at 6A playoff team Land O’Lakes Sunlake 17-6 in the season opener. Pasco advanced to the 5A regional finals last year and the state semifinals in 2011, dropping a 41-38 heartbreaker in three overtimes to Wakulla. The Pirates also advanced to the state semifinals in 2008.
Suwannee (Live Oak) (7-2) at South Sumter (Bushnell) (10-0)
It’s hard to believe that a storied program like the Suwannee Bulldogs hasn’t been in the state playoffs since 2003. Jamie Rodgers led Suwannee to a 7-2 record a runner-up finish in District 5-5A behind North Marion. Suwannee’s reward is trip to Bushnell to take one of the top teams in the state in South Sumter. Suwannee’s 27-14 loss at North Marion on Sept. 20 cost them a tiebreaker for the district title. The Bulldogs only other loss was 35-7 to 6A state power and rival Columbia last week. Suwannee is one of only two programs, along with Tallahassee North Florida Christian, to win four consecutive state titles as the Bulldogs won the 3A state title from 1987-90. But the closest Suwannee has come to a state title since then was a loss in the 3A state championship game to Glades Central in 1999, and the program had fallen on hard times with the last playoff win coming ten years ago. Coach Inman Sherman has South Sumter back in the playoffs for the third straight year, after a 2-8 season in 2010 and 3-7 in 2009. South Sumter has been a perennial playoff team under Sherman other than those two seasons, and made it to the 2A state championship game in 2005, losing to Hollywood Chaminade. South Sumter rolled to the District 6-5A title in 2013, outscoring its opponents 465-107 on the way to a perfect 10-0 regular season. The Raiders had three shutouts on defense and the closest games were two 20 point wins, 34-14 over Hernando and 30-10 last week over 6A playoff team Leesburg. South Sumter is also explosive offensively, scoring 49 points against Wildwood, 55 against East Ridge, 69 against Brooksville Central, 51 against Nature Coast Tech and 63 against Weeki Wachee. This is another of the week one playoff games to watch, as South Sumter hasn’t quite played the schedule Suwannee has. The Raiders have three wins over playoff teams, but one of those is against 2-8 Wildwood, who qualified in a three team district it Class 1A. The other wins were over district rival Pasco and the Leesburg win.
4A-Region 1 Semifinals
East Gadsden (Havana) (4-6) at Fort White (7-1)
The Indians won their first district football title in school history with a 34-19 win against Taylor County on Nov. 1 in the District 2-4A championship game. Fort White is averaging 440 yards per game and rush for over 300 yards per game. Senior Tavaris Williams leads the way with an average of 10.2 yards per carry and 20 TDs. Fort White has scored 31 or more points in all but one game. The Jaguars have lost three of their last four games, but were able to secure the District 1-4A runner-up spot behind Florida High after beating Walton, 14-7, on Nov. 1. The Jaguars have given up a total of 145 points in their past four games.
Taylor County (Perry) (5-5) at Florida High (Tallahassee) (6-4)
Don’t be fooled by the records. Both teams have played tough schedules. However, both teams are also struggling heading into the postseason. The Seminoles earned home field advantage by going 3-0 in their district, but they have lost two of their last three entering the game. Three of their losses came to an 8-2 Wakulla (Crawfordville) team, defending 5A champion Godby (Tallahassee) and 6A Choctaw (7-3). They are led by junior dual threat QB Ronnie Harrison, who has thrown for 1,440 yards and rushed for 672 yards. He has 21 TDs on the season. Taylor County, led by former Gainesville coach Ryan Smith, has lost to playoff teams Dixie County (1A), 7A Lincoln (Tallahassee), 7A Leon (Tallahassee) and district foe Fort White. They also lost to Wakulla. By comparison, the ‘Dogs have also lost two of their last three.
4A-Region 2 Semifinals
Bolles (Jacksonville) (7-3) at Keystone Heights (5-4)
Despite three losses, the ‘Dogs are ready to make another long postseason run under Hall of Fame coach Corky Rogers, who has now won 289 games at Bolles and will attempt to lead the Bulldogs to their third consecutive state title game. The Bulldogs have been district runners-up in two of the past three seasons. However, they played another demanding schedule which could help them get back to Orlando. All three losses came on the road to 7A Niceville (9-1), 5A American Heritage (Plantation) (9-1) and district rival Raines (8-2). Meanwhile, they defeated 8A DeLand, 5A North Marion (Sparr) and 5A Vanguard (Ocala) among others. Offensively, the Bulldogs scored 31 or more points in all but one game this season and are averaging 432 yards per game. But defense will be the concern as Bolles has allowed an average of 29.8 points per game this season. The Indians advanced to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. But they lost two of their top players to season-ending injuries in Anton Noble (1,005 yards rushing and nine TDs) and Sam Anderson (230 yards rushing; 3rd with 107 tackles), but still managed to win District 4-4A with a 4-0 mark.
Bradford (Starke) (3-6) at Raines (Jacksonville) (8-2)
The Vikings are clearly the better team entering this game. They have played a tough schedule which has included wins against 8A First Coast, 6A Ed White (Jacksonville) and district rival Bolles, plus a loss to 7A Fletcher – all playoff teams this season. Raines has good balance on offense. They have rushed for almost 2,000 yards this season and thrown for over 1,500. They also have a stingy defense – which has allowed an average of only 165 yards per game. The Tornadoes have lost three of their last four games and are allowing an average of 25 points per game during that stretch. A rematch will Bolles would be next with the winner advancing to the state semifinals and likely the 4A title game.
3A-Region 1 Semifinals
Providence (Jacksonville) (6-4) at Trinity Catholic (Ocala) (7-3)
The Celtics, who have had a week off to prepare, are seeking their 10th consecutive opening round win. Both teams are prolific on offense with over 4,000 yards on the season. The Stallions are led by sophomore QB Augie DeBeiase, who has thrown for 1,769 yards and 18 TDs, while running back Will Mitchell has 1,137 yards and 10 scores rushing. Senior Tristyn Bennett is DeBeiase’s top target with 40 catches for 720 yards and 10 TDs. Trinity Catholic led Marion County with 4,039 yards of total offense. Quarterback Reid Carlton has come on as of late with 534 yards and six touchdowns in his last two games. The Celtics are averaging 46.4 points per game over their last five games. The Stallions have lost two in a row and three of their last five games.
Father Lopez (Daytona Beach) (5-5) at Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) (9-1)
The Conquerors may be the team to beat in 3A north. Their only defeat was at defending 5A state champion Godby (Tallahassee) on Oct. 11 and they just crushed 5A Vanguard (Ocala) on the road, 48-7. They have also beaten three playoff teams: 6A St. Augustine, 2A Warner Christian (South Daytona), defending 2A champion University Christian (Jacksonville) and district foe Providence. Plus, they handed IMG Academy (Bradenton) one of their two losses. Sophomore Jalin Buie has over 1,000 yards rushing for Trinity Christian, which allows only 160 yards per game and held seven of their opponents to less than eight points. This will be the first playoff game since 2005 for the Green Wave. Quarterback Joe Boden has thrown for 2,138 yards and 19 touchdowns, while running back Justin Bryant has rushed for 876 yards.
2A-Region 1 Semifinals
Harvest Community (Jacksonville) (6-3) at North Florida Christian (Tall.) (7-2)
The Eagles won the District 1-2A title but they clinched a spot in the postseason before the year began because NFC is in a two-team district with Florida A&M. Senior Justin Moore has thrown for 1,816 yards, 18 touchdowns and only three picks. Senior Jonathan Vickers leads NFC on the ground with 954 yards and 14 TDs. The Warriors, who are only in their third year of football, finished behind defending state champion University Christian in a 2A-2 this season. Harvest Community is led by senior running back Lonnie Marts III, who rushed for 1,277 yards and 10 TDs, including a 94-yard run and an average of 12.4 yards per carry.
FAMU (Tallahassee) (3-7) at University Christian (Jacksonville) (8-2)
The Christians are the defending 2A state champions and get the Baby Rattlers at home in what should be a comfortable playoff-opening win. UCS has over 2,500 yards on the ground. Senior Tamarius Bowe leads the way with an average of 11.1 yards per carry, followed by sophomore Hussein Howe with 600 yards and nine touchdowns. The strength of the team is defense, which is only allowing 165 yards per game. After a 39-0 loss to Trinity Christian in Week #5, the Christians rolled to a 5-0 mark in which they outscored their opponents, 285-19.
2A-Region 2 Semifinals
Agape (Orlando) (3-7) at Warner Christian (South Daytona) (8-1)
Warner Christian has the talent to make a run at a state title. It starts on offense with quarterback Drew Eckels. The UAB commit has thrown for 1,509 yards. Teams will be trying to take away running back Demaris Tillmon, which should give Eckels an opportunity to make plays down the field. Defensively, the Eagles are led by defensive lineman Dennis Williams. The offense has proven it can put up championship numbers but it may be the defense that determines just how far they go with North Florida Christian or defending 2A state champion University Christian likely awaiting in the state semifinals.
1A-Region 3 Semifinals
Lafayette (Mayo) (7-2) at Trenton (8-1)
The Tigers are the defending 1A state runners-up. They have won seven in a row since an 18-7 loss at Dixie County in Week #2. Senior quarterback Stephen Smith can beat you with his arm (692 yards passing & 10 TDs) or his legs (averaging 9.52 yards per carry). As a team, Trenton has rushed for 2,363 yards, led by senior Melvin Adams who has 815 yards on the ground and 11 TDs. The Tigers, the District 6-1A champions, are averaging 49.8 points per game their last four games. Lafayette finished behind Hamilton County in 5-1A. The Hornets are coming off a 41-6 loss to Dixie County. They are led by quarterback Brycen Lee (1,275 yards passing & 15 TDs) and junior Lee Jones, who has rushed for a team-high 970 yards and seven scores.
Bell (8-2) at Hamilton County (Jasper) (4-5)
The Bulldogs have to travel for the first round of the state playoffs, but that’s fine with Bell, which is making its first playoff appearance in school history. Senior running back Austin Ritchey is having an all-state season with 2,038 yards rushing and 20 TDs. Bell has scored 40 or more points in a game six times this season. Hamilton County has played a tough schedule with losses against playoff teams Suwannee (Live Oak), Union County (Lake Butler), Dixie County (Cross City) and Taylor County (Perry). The Trojans are balanced on offense with 1,094 yards through the air and 1,295 yards on the ground.
1A-Region 4 Semifinals
Wildwood (2-8) at Dixie County (Cross City) (8-0)
Wildwood, the district 8 runner-up, made the playoffs despite only two wins thanks to a three-team district. After opening the season with losses to South Sumter, Keystone Heights and Dunnellon by a combined 102-0, the Wildcats were able to defeat Taylor (Pierson), 48-0, to advance to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bears won their first league title since 2009 in the very tough District 7-1A, often referred to as the “SEC of 1A football.” Senior Kendall Copeland leads the team with 799 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. Florida commit Duke Dawson and FAMU commit Shaquille Mitchem are players to watch.
Union County (Lake Butler) (9-1) at Crescent City (6-4)
The Tigers will have to be road warriors during the state playoffs. They managed to win their final three district games to get in as the District 7-1A runners-up behind Dixie County, which defeated Union County, 30-12, on Oct. 4. They are led by quarterback Caleb Cox, who has thrown for 1,318 yards, 11 TDs and only four interceptions, and running back Daquin Edwards, who has 691 yards on the ground and nine scores. The Tigers averaged 40 points per game following the loss to the Bears, who they could face in the regional finals. The Raiders won their three-team district (8-1A) by going 2-0, but they were blown out by 3A First Academy (Orlando), 55-13, in the season finale. However, they played five teams that are playing in the postseason (3A Providence, 2A Harvest Community, 2A Victory Christian Academy, 2A Agape Christian Academy and 1A Wildwood).