Despite struggles, Gainesville last Alachua County team standing

gainesvillehelmetBy Marty Pallman

A 5-5 season would seem like a mediocre season to most high school football teams.  And with the success the Gainesville Purple Hurricanes have achieved in the past six seasons, a 5-5 regular season record would normally be seen as a disappointment.

But here are the Purple Hurricanes, moving on to the Class 6A regional semifinals after last week’s 24-17 win over New Port Richey Mitchell at Citizen’s Field.  Gainesville will be back at home this Friday night against Land O’Lakes Sunlake in the 6A-Region 2 Semifinals.

Despite a .500 regular season record, GHS rolled through District 5-6A, beating their district opponents by an average of 21 points a game in winning their third consecutive district title and fifth in six years.  That earned the ‘Canes a home playoff game last week against a tough Mitchell team making it’s first playoff appearance.

Gainesville’s win was highlighted by a 99-yard TD pass from Caelan Christian to Dock Luckie, coming right after the Purple Hurricanes defense held Mitchell on downs at the 1-yard line.  Gainesville coach Mark Latsko says it was a great play in a tough situation.

“You don’t really want to be in that situation,” he said.  “It was actually about 99 and a half yards, but Dock ran a great route and Caelan stood tall in the pocket and made a great throw.”

“Yeah we’ve given up some points this year,” Latsko said.  “We have won the games we were supposed to win, and we have been showing improvement as the season goes on.”

Despite not winning the city title for the first time since 2008, Gainesville is back in the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.  Latsko says the loss to Buchholz on a last-play field goal hurt, but the Purple Hurricanes re-focused to win another district title.

“Obviously if there’s one game you’d like to have back it’s that Buchholz game, and we don’t like to talk about it much,” he said.  “But we just moved forward and kept working hard and I couldn’t be more proud of how this team reacted and that they are still playing.”

Two years removed from a 14-1 season and a trip to the 6A state championship game, a 6-5 record does look kind of strange for this Gainesville team.  But despite the loss to Buchholz, the Purple Hurricanes have dropped games to playoff teams Columbia (6A), Madison County (4A), Tallahassee Lincoln (7A) and Crawfordville Wakulla (5A).

“We may get spoiled at times, because it’s hard to win a football game,” Latsko added.  “The kids are the ones that we have to credit, because there’s no sense of entitlement and they work hard in the summer and during the spring and camps and they deserve all the accolades.”

Coming up this Friday is a tough Sunlake team, who lost to Gainesville at Citizen’s Field in the 6A regional semifinals back in 2011.

Latsko says this year’s GHS team wants to get past the second round, where the Purple Hurricanes season ended a year ago with a loss at Spring Hill Springstead.

“We have developed a bit of a playoff rivalry with Sunlake,” Latsko said.  “We had a close game a few years ago.  We want to get past the second round, that isn’t good enough this year. And if you move on to the third round, now you’re playing with the big boys.”

If Gainesville beats Sunlake on Friday night, the Purple Hurricanes would host Seffner Armwood or travel to Venice in the 6A-Region 2 Final on Friday, November 28.

You can hear coverage of the Gainesville-Sunlake game this Friday night from Citizens Field with Chuck Dowling, Oak Hall head football coach Scott McDaniel and Tyler TenBieg beginning with a 7:15 pregame show on The Prep Zone.  Kickoff is set for 7:30.

GHS football coach Mark Latsko and members of the GHS football team appeared on “The Prep Zone” show this past Monday.  Click here to listen to the show.