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State playoff football previews (6A-8A)

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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 1-8A

Oviedo (7-3) at No. 3 Mandarin (Jacksonville) (10-0) – This was supposed to be 8-2 University (Orange City), instead of Oviedo, but the Titans (5-1 in league play) were disqualified because of an ineligible player. The Lions (4-2 in the district) entered the postseason by default as the No. 3 team in District 2. The Mustangs ran the table for their first unbeaten season in school history. Mandarin is also making its first playoff appearance in 10 years.

Sandalwood (Jacksonville) (8-2) at No. 9 Lake Brantley (Altamonte Springs) (10-0) – It’s been nine years since the Saints defeated a ranked team in the postseason. The key to a Saints’ victory will likely be its rush defense, which must find a way to slow down the Patriots’ three 1,000 yard rushers (Jared Bernhardt, Trace Christian and Tim Marinan). The good news for Sandalwood is that QB Eli Peters is healthy after a mid-season injury. Plus, they have a good RB in Logan Wright, who is second in the Jacksonville area with 1,697 yards rushing and 16 TDs.

Region 1-7A

Lee (Jacksonville) (7-3) at Lincoln (Tallahassee) (4-6) – Despite a 7-3 record last year, the Generals were not expected to make the postseason because of a tough district that included First Coast (Jacksonville), which went unbeaten during the regular season in 2014, Columbia (Lake City), which won the district in 2015, Fletcher (Neptune Beach) and Atlantic Coast (Jacksonville). The Trojans are a perennial playoff team but have struggled. However, they have won three of their last four with the only loss during that time coming to 3A #1 Trinity Christian (Jacksonville).

Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7-3) at Hagerty (Oviedo) (8-2) – All three losses by the Bears were on the road to ranked teams – 6A No. 2 Mainland (Daytona Beach), 7A #6 Buchholz (Gainesville) & 6A #7 St. Augustine, who combined to go 27-3 during the regular season. Bartram Trail faced six teams during the season that are in the state playoffs, as well as an 8-2 Oakleaf (Orange Park) that missed the postseason.

Chiles (Tallahassee) (6-4) at No. 3 Columbia (Lake City) (9-1) – The Tigers are explosive on offense. The average 424 yards and 40.7 points per game. Quarterback Davin Schuck (2,500 yards & 23 TDs) and RB Kamario Bell (1,000 yards rushing) give them good balance. After giving up 44 points in a mid-season loss to Escambia (Pensacola), Columbia is giving up an average of 16.2 points over their last five games. They have wins against state-ranked teams Buchholz (7A), Bolles (Jacksonville) (4A) and Suwannee (Live Oak) (5A), including victories against playoff teams Lincoln (Tallahassee) (7A), Lee (Jacksonville) (7A) and Gainesville (6A).

Edgewater (Orlando) (7-3) at No. 6 Buchholz (Gainesville) (9-1) – Bobcats won their first district title in 11 years and are at home for the first round. The visiting Eagles are averaging 31.6 points per game, while the Bobcats are averaging 31.8 points per game. Buchholz QB Jackson White is one of the leading passers in the area with 2,216 yards & 22 TDs. The Bobcats have won seven games in a row since their only loss at 7A state-ranked Columbia (Lake City). Buchholz is battle tested if the game is decided late. The Bobcats have four games this season with less than 1:30 to play in the game.

Region 1-6A

Choctawhatchee (Fort Walton Beach) (6-4) at Nease (Ponte Vedra) (7-3) – The Panthers are at home for the first time in eight years thanks to a district championship win against St. Augustine, which snapped the Yellow Jackets long district winning streak spanning 12 seasons. Choctaw was a state semifinalist last season and they’ve been very competitive in their losses. The Indians lost to 7A Rickards (Tallahassee) in overtime, at 6A No. 3 Navarre by two, at 6A No. 10 Niceville by three and by seven to 6A Tate (Cantonment) – all playoff teams. This will a touch match-up for the Panthers.

No. 7 St. Augustine (9-1) at No. 10 Niceville (8-2), 8:30 p.m. – According to Justin Barney of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, the last time the Yellow Jackets made a playoff trip to the Panhandle, current Redskins RB Alfred Morris and Pine Forest handed them a 26-21 loss. The Yellow Jackets scored 66 points against Palatka in the regular season finale, its highest point total in 11 years. Niceville, which was a state semifinalist last year, is coming off of a 35-13 loss at 6A #3 Navarre which snapped the Eagles’ 7-game winning streak. Niceville has a balanced attack on offense with over 2,000 yards passing and 1,938 rushing.

Region 2-6A

Gainesville (6-4) at Mitchell (New Port Richey) (9-1) – Mitchell finished with its best record in school history and is looking for its first postseason win in school history. GHS is in the state playoffs for the 7th consecutive year. This is a rematch of last year’s regional quarterfinal, hosted by GHS, in which the ‘Canes built a big lead early but had to hold on for a 24-17 victory. In fact, it took a 99-yard TD pass from quarterback Caelan Christian to Dock Luckie, following a goal-line stand, to seal the win. Both players are back for Gainesville, which averages 31.7 points per game but faces a Mustangs’ defense that allows only 11.6 points per game.

Sunlake (Land O’Lakes) (8-2) at Vanguard (Ocala) (8-2) – According to Burton, Vanguard is 0-14 in the playoffs when it scores less than 20 points. However, the Knights have been explosive on offense in 2015. Vanguard not scored under 25 in a game all season and is averaging 39.6 points per game. Quarterback N’Kosi Perry, a Miami commit, just tied the school record with six TD passes in a 54-17 win over Mount Dora. So, as Burton pointed out, the best opportunity for Sunlake to win might be because of defense. The visiting Seahawks have given up less than 20 points six times this season.

Region 4-6A

Deltona (7-2*) at Heritage (Palm Bay) (8-2) – The visiting Wolves have won four in a row since the district championship loss to #2 Mainland (Daytona Beach). They are led by WR Evan Hinson, a Miami commit, and QB Marquies Lane (1,781 total yards and 15 touchdowns). The Panthers’ only losses have come to 4A No. 5 Bolles (Jacksonville) and at 5A No. 8 Palm Bay (Melbourne), both playoff teams, by a combined 10 points.

* The Wolves are 7-2 as long as University is out of the playoffs. If the Titans’ wins are reinstated in their court hearing today, Deltona enters 6-3.

Sebastian River (6-3) at No. 2 Mainland (Daytona Beach) (9-1) – The Bucs have the talent to make a run all the way to the state championship game. Quarterback Denzel Houston (1,682 passing yards, 21 touchdowns) has been in some big games during his career. He has a lot of weapons around him, which is why Mainland has averaged 39.2 points per game.

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