The Prep Zone Insider – Thursday, Oct. 27

Mike_Ridaught_photo at SouthernBy Mike Ridaught
Twitter & Facebook – @ThePrepZone

Hard to believe it, but another month is coming to an end. With Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew in the months of September and October, respectively, it’s been kind of a strange start to the 2016-17 year. The month of November is always a good month because typically the weather gets a little cooler, and families start making plans for the holidays. Plus, November brings the end of some of the fall sports, like swimming & diving and volleyball, but the new month will also mark the beginning of the winter sports seasons for soccer, basketball and more. We’ll have an overlap during November. The more sports, the merrier.

Football will be the final sport of the fall to be played (Dec. 8-10 in Orlando). The first round of the FHSAA state playoffs will be on Friday, November 11. In the area, several teams are still alive in the district standings heading into the final district week of the season. The FHSAA recently announced the kickoff times of the Florida high school football state championship games.

Today, I was a guest on The Tailgate with Jeff Cardozo on 95.3 FM/850 AM in Gainesville to talk about football teams in the Gainesville area, the playoffs, and more. Here are the three things we talked about on ThePrepZone.com Sports Report presented by SunState Federal Credit Union.

1. Elimination game tonight – Union County plays at Baldwin tonight for a playoff spot in Class 1A.

Fort White is the district champion in 1A-District 6. They beat Union County on the road by 22 and they beat Baldwin on the road by 20, so comparable scores for the Tigers & Indians, which is why it’s good they get to settle the district runner-up spot on the field tonight. That’s what’s at stake tonight for Union County and Baldwin. The winner is going to the state playoffs, the loser will not. Baldwin has been kind of the surprise in this district with wins against weaker 4A & 6A programs and a 35-6 win at Hawthorne. The Indians have a sophomore QB (Gavin Screws) who is throwing for almost 200 yards per game and a running back who could go over 1,000 yards tonight. Isaiah Miller is an Oregon State commit who has 924 yards entering the game. All the talk was about Fort White and Union County entering the season, and Baldwin has been a pleasant surprise.

But I think Union County has been a disappointment when you consider the fact that entering the season they had Ty Cook at quarterback, who threw for over 3,200 yards and 35 TDs as a junior, plus running back Charles Strong, an FSU commit who transferred from P.K. Yonge. However, they’ve been up and down. Even though Strong has rushed for over 1,000 yards and Cook has almost 1,500 yards passing, the Tigers have struggled mightily at times this year. They were blown out at home by 3A Melbourne Central Catholic & Clearwater Academy by a combined 106-17 in two non-district games. They were able to get back in the win column with a 52-point win against Cedar Creek Christian, a struggling 2A team out of Jacksonville.  But it was a much-needed win.

Cook has thrown 12 TDs but he’s also thrown 13 interceptions, which has played a part in Union County being just 4-4 overall entering this game. However, the visiting Tigers are going for their sixth straight playoff berth. Coach Pruitt will find a way to have his guys ready for this one, while Baldwin is looking for its first playoff since 2011, so it should be an intense game. Regardless of whether it’s been a surprise season for one or a disappointing season for the other, a playoff spot is on the line tonight in Baldwin.

All that said, I did pick Union County to win the game.  Just call it a hunch.  The game will air on 107.9 FM in Lake Butler.  Click here to listen online.

2. Playoff race – This week is the final week of the district season. Who is in and who is out, and who has a chance to get in this week?

Here is a short list of teams that won’t be in the state playoffs this year: Gainesville, which had been to seven straight postseason appearances; Eastside (Gainesville), which despite only one victory last year still got in as a runner-up in 2015; and Dixie County (Cross City), which lost to Newberry in a must-win game, 24-20, this past Friday night. The Panthers got it done in 1A-District 7 as a runner-up behind defending state champion Trenton, which won the district by one point over Newberry. But all three of those teams I just mentioned – Gainesville, Eastside & Dixie County – were in the playoffs last year, but they won’t be in the playoffs this year. Still, good to see there will be a few area teams in the playoffs on November the 11th.

Buchholz (Gainesville) clinched the 7A-District 3 title at home last Friday night against Fleming Island (Orange Park).  It’s back-to-back district titles for Coach Mark Whittemore, who has two sons on the team in Luke & Trent.  Luke Whittemore had two TD catches in last week’s win.  Trent is a rising sophomore.  Luke is a Troy commit and they might be getting a steal. He might be a little undersized at 6-foot-1 but he finds a way to get open and he makes plays, some of them by leaping over the defender.  Luke has 334 yards receiving – in his last two games, including an 86-yard TD catch on the road at Bartram Trail (St. Johns).  Last year, Buchholz won their first district title in a decade.  Now, they’re back-to-back district champs.

Newberry and Buchholz are two of a possible three Alachua County football teams that will be in the FHSAA state playoffs. The third could be Santa Fe (Alachua). The Raiders still have a chance to get in. They play at Keystone Heights in a must-win game. But if they win, and they favored to do so, they will at least clinch a three-way tie. Bradford (Starke) is undefeated in 4A-District 3 so if they win at home against Interlachen, then the Tornadoes would be the district champion and Santa Fe would be the runner-up. If Interlachen was somehow able to pull the upset and force a three-way tie, and the Rams are 2-1 in the district, the three teams would play on Monday night in a shootout to decide two playoff spots

Columbia (Lake City) has a chance to clinch a playoff spot tonight at First Coast (Jacksonville) – possibly even another 3-way tie with Lee (Jacksonville) and Fletcher (Neptune Beach). The Tigers are one win from clinching their sixth straight state playoff berth, all under coach Brian Allen. Columbia struggled early in the year but now they’re starting to turn it on. Last year, they advanced to the state semifinals, and they should get the win tonight at First Coast because this is not the same football team that went 57-7 from 2010-2014, so I believe the Tigers are playoff-bound in 7A. The Tigers have righted the ship.

Down in Ocala tomorrow night, Vanguard hosts Forest for first place in 6A-District 5. Forest & Vanguard both eliminated Gainesville and they both enter the game undefeated for the first time in series history. Vanguard is ranked 2nd in the AP state rankings, and second in The Prep Zone Power Poll, and it would not surprise me if they won it all, especially now that Miami Central has been eliminated. Miami Central had won four state titles in a row but they finished third in their district this year behind Miami Carol City and Miami Northwestern. So despite a 6-2 overall record, they will miss the playoffs this season. That probably wouldn’t be the case for next season with the FHSAA’s new playoff format, but this year Miami Central is out, and I think that opens the door for Vanguard.

One final team that won’t play in an FHSAA playoff but will play for a championship is Oak Hall School (Gainesville), which competes as an Independent in the North Florida Football Conference. They are still undefeated at 7-0 and will host John Paul II Catholic of Tallahassee on Thursday, November 10th, for the conference championship. We’ll have ‘live’ video coverage of the game online at ThePrepZone.com with Marty Pallman (Play-by-play) & Gainesville football coach Mark Latkso (color) calling the action.

3. Eastside (Gainesville) at Gainesville – neither team will be in the state playoffs, but there’s still a lot to play for!

It’s a city rivalry, number one. Both schools will want to beat each other for that reason. For Gainesville, it’s a chance to win the mythical city title. GHS defeated Buchholz in double-overtime earlier this season and even though Gainesville has been in the playoffs, winning the city title isn’t something they’ve been able to do the past couple of years. It’s also Senior Night for the Hurricanes. It will be the last time they put on the purple & white. Plus, the game is at Citizen’s Field, and even though both teams share the home stadium, Gainesville usually plays well there. The seniors will want to go out with a win in their final game.

But adding to the intrigue of this year’s match-up is that several of the coaches who are now at Eastside, were at Gainesville last year, including first-year head coach Cedderick Daniels, who was the co-defensive coordinator at Gainesville in 2015. Plus, there are guys who play for Gainesville that were at Eastside before, such as Ralph Webb’s younger brother Deion Webb, who is a senior OL for the ‘Canes.

GHS has dominated the series by winning eight in a row, but that was on the heels of a long losing streak to Eastside so it would be good to see this series get back to the way it used to be because the Hurricanes have taken the air out of the rivalry by posting five straight shutouts in the series, including outscoring the Rams 182-0 during that stretch.

Eastside has really struggled this year, but they played Forest tough on the road and only lost by two, but they’ve also been outscored 75-7 in their last two games against Belleview and Fort White.

wygc_logo 104.9Gainesville has played a tough schedule with just a couple of hiccups – they were blown out by Clay (Green Cove Springs) and Vanguard – both on the road.  But they’ve beaten Buchholz and North Marion, a couple of playoff teams, and I believe GHS is the better team. But it’s a rivalry, so we’ll see. I’ll have the call of the game, along with George Koziara, on 104.9 FM in Gainesville.

We’ll also have coverage of the city showdown in Marion County between Forest and Vanguard on Friday night at 7 p.m. with Pallman (Play-by-play) & Billy Barnette of C2CSchools.com (Color) on the call.  You can listen to the game on Florida Sports Talk in Ocala (100.1 FM & 900 AM) and Gainesville (92.1 FM & 1230 AM).

Tune in to our high school updates every Friday morning on Florida Sports Talk with Ridaught (7:45 a.m.) & Pallman (4:20 p.m.) as guests. Also, check out our weekly 2-minute sports updates every Monday, Wednesday & Friday at 7:30 a.m. on 100.9 FM in Gainesville.  If you miss an update, they are archived here.