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State playoff football previews (1A-5A)

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REGIONAL QUARTERFINALS (Area teams)

The Prep Zone coverage area includes the following counties:  Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Madison, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, Sumter, St. Johns, Suwannee, Taylor, Union & Volusia)

(AP state rankings included, along with stats/trends courtesy of Richard Burton)

Region 1-5A

Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (6-4) at No. 9 Suwannee (Live Oak) (7-2) – Bishop Kenny is in the postseason for the 7th consecutive season. The Crusaders will have their hands full against the Bulldogs, who should bounce back at home after getting blown out against 7A Columbia last week. While the visiting Crusaders have been stout offensively in the past, this year they are struggling, averaging just 280 yards of offense per game. Suwannee’s defense gives up just 14.4 points per game.

Ribault (Jacksonville) (6-4) at No. 10 Ponte Vedra (8-2) – The visiting Trojans are coming off a big win against rival Raines (Jacksonville) as they handed the Vikings their first loss of the season. The Trojans have been able to dig themselves out of a 0-3 start to make the postseason. Two of their four losses came to unbeaten 3A Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) and 8A Mandarin (Jacksonville). It will be the running game of Ribault vs. the passing game of the Sharks and junior QB Nick Tronti (2,206 passing yards, 25 TDs, 5 INT).
Region 2-5A

Menendez (St. Augustine) (5-5) at No. 4 North Marion (Citra) (9-1) – The Colts are one of the favorites to play in the 5A title game. They are coming off a record-setting performance against Lake Weir (Ocala) with a county record 53 points in one quarter and tying a school record with 74 points against the Hurricanes. Menendez, which won a 3-team tiebreaker over Palatka & Baker County, is 1-17 all-time against ranked opponents.

Eastside (Gainesville) (1-9) at Clay (Green Cove Springs) (7-3) – The Rams were fortunate to be in a 3-team district, where a win against Belleview put Eastside in the playoffs. They will have to figure out a way to slow down Clay’s Bilal Ally if they are going to pull the upset. The senior has 1,807 yards rushing, tops in northeast Florida, with 26 rushing TDs in nine games this season. Eastside is allowing 37.1 points per game and they’ve been outscored 90-12 in their last two games against 6A Gainesville, which defeated Clay in September, and Hardee (Wauchula), which did not make the 5A playoffs.

Lecanto (7-3) at River Ridge (New Port Richey) (9-1)

Zephyrhills (8-2) at No. 6 Nature Coast (Brooksville) (10-0) – first unbeaten season in school history for the Sharks, who are led by RB DeShawn Smith (2,768 yards rushing and 47 touchdowns, which leads the state)

Region 4-5A

South Lake (Groveland) (3-6) at Merritt Island (7-3)

REGIONAL SEMIFINALS

Region 1-4A

No. 5 Bolles (Jacksonville) at No. 4 Walton (DeFuniak Springs), 8:30 – One of just three top five match-ups in the state in the opening round of the playoffs. If it weren’t for a 78-yard kickoff return for a TD with 97 seconds to play, Bolles would still be ranked No. 1 and Raines (Jacksonville) would be on the road for the first round. The visiting Bulldogs have won 11 straight titles and have been to four consecutive state championship games. They are coached by Hall of Famer Corky Rogers. The Bulldogs are used to being road warriors and typically take down some of the biggest teams in the state regardless of classification. However, this is not your typical opener for the ‘Dogs as Walton enters the game unbeaten. According to Richard Burton of the Star Banner (Ocala), the last win for Walton over a ranked opponent at home in the playoffs was in 1985 (Dunnellon). White history is not on their side, a 10-0 record bodes well.

Rutherford (Springfield) (3-7) at No. 3 Raines (Jacksonville) (9-1)

South Sumter (Bushnell) (8-2) at Santa Fe (Alachua) (6-3) – The Raiders won their first district title in 19 years, while South Sumter lost two games in the regular season this year after three consecutive unbeaten regular seasons. South Sumter’s loss at state-ranked Bishop Moore (Orlando) snapped their 39-game regular season win streak. Both teams have really good offenses. The visiting Raiders are averaging 357 yards and 38.7 points per game, while the Raiders are averaging 382 yards and 35 points per game.

Bradford (Starke) (7-3) at No. 1 Dunnellon (10-0) – Dunnellon is ranked No. 1 for first time since 1980, according to Burton. It’s the Tigers 5th undefeated season in school history. It’s the first time a Marion County team has been No. 1 since 2011 (Trinity Catholic). Dunnellon, looking for its first playoff win since 2003, has Marion County’s third best defense (207.6 yards per game allowed). They are only allowing 8.5 points per game. Bradford only allows 220 ypg. Offensively, the Tigers are averaging 359 yards and 40.8 points per game.

Region 1-3A

Pensacola Catholic (2-8) at No. 1 Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) (10-0) – The two-time defending champion Conquerors have won 18 games in a row. Pensacola Catholic was the last team to beat Trinity Christian in the playoffs (2012), 22-21, on a blocked field goal with two seconds to play

Providence (Jacksonville) (3-6) at Taylor County (Perry) (5-5)

Region 2-3A

No. 4 Lakeland Christian (9-1) at Trinity Catholic (Ocala) (3-7) – Despite a losing record heading into the postseason, the Celtics have played one of the toughest schedules in the state as they faced five teams who won 10 or more games last season, including two-time defending state champion Trinity Christian and 5A state runner-up Godby (Tallahassee). According to Burton, Trinity Catholic has not lost a playoff opener since 2003 (Tallahassee North Florida Christian), winning 11 straight first-round games. But the visiting Vikings, coached by former Gator QB Wayne Peace, is ranked top five in the state

Region 1-2A

Maclay (Tallahassee) (2-8) at University Christian (Jacksonville) (7-3)

Cedar Creek Christian (Jacksonville) (7-3) at North Florida Christian (Tallahassee) (6-4)

Region 2-2A

Victory Christian Academy (Lakeland) (5-5) at Trinity Christian (Deltona) (6-4)

Warner Christian (South Daytona) (2-8) at Foundation Academy (Winter Park) (6-4)
Region 3-1A

Jefferson County (Monticello) (6-4) at No. 5 Fort White (8-2)

Union County (Lake Butler) (9-1) at Madison County (7-3) – This game is great match-up between the two quarterbacks. The visiting Tigers have Tyrus Cook, who leads the state with 3,115 yards passing. Cook has three games over 400 yards and has thrown 34 TDs and nine interceptions. The Cowboys’ Kentwan Daniels transferred from Hamilton County, where he led the Trojans to a state runner-up finish last season, including wins at Union County, Trenton and Dixie County.

Region 4-1A

No. 2 Fort Meade (9-1) at No. 1 Trenton (10-0) – This is an epic match-up for a first-round game because it’s a rare 1-2 meeting. According to Burton, this is the first 1 vs. 2 meeting in the opening round since 1992 (#1 Jacksonville University Christian d. #2 Mayo Lafayette, 24-12, in Class 1A). Despite the fact that Trenton has imposed a running clock on all 10 regular season foes, the first team in state history to do so, this game could come down to the defenses. Fort Meade, which has been ranked No. 1 for most of the season, gives up an average of 6.9 points per game while the Tigers allow just 7.8 points per game. The difference maker could be Trenton’s Hamp Cheevers, who has scored TDs on offense, defense and special teams this season.

Dixie County (Cross City) (7-2) at No. 4 Pahokee (8-2) – The Bears have been to the state semifinals the past two seasons but have a tough draw against the Blue Devils, who will be without their head coach. Alphonso Smith has been removed due to “inappropriate conduct” involving a student. Dixie County was off last week but edged 2A state-ranked University Christian (Jacksonville), 37-36, two weeks ago.

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