Buchholz will need 4-quarter effort to advance

The Buchholz Bobcats have methodically ended their first three home playoff games in the first half, but Friday’s Class 7A state semifinal football contest will require a four-quarter effort.

Buchholz (Gainesville) travels to Fort Lauderdale to take on St. Thomas Aquinas. Both squads sport identical 12-1 records after the Bobcats beat Nease (Ponte Vedra), 37-14, last Friday in the 7A-Region 1 title game while the Raiders cruised past visiting Homestead, 56-7, in the 7A-Region 4 championship. It marks the first time Buchholz has advanced to the final four since 1995.

Unlike the Bobcats’ first three regional playoff matchups—including wins of 35-7 over Fleming Island and 39-7 against University (Orange City)—where they built huge first-half leads and coasted, Buchholz coach Mark Whittemore knows this contest will be a wire-to-wire battle.

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“It’s not going to be one of those games where we can coast in the second half,” he said. “It’s going to be a four-quarter game and we know that. We’ve got to be prepared to possess the football and keep the ball in our offense’s hands.” 

Both teams mirror each other on offense with balanced attacks. Buchholz has 2,174 passing yards and 1,927 rushing, while St. Thomas Aquinas has 1,949 passing and 2,369 rushing.

“They’re very good on offense, very talented,” Whittemore said. “They have a very, very explosive run attack and we’re going to have to be able to stop that. And then they’ve got some very talented wide receivers so, because of their balanced attack, it’s going to be a difficult task.”

The Raiders are led by senior quarterback Zion Turner who has passed for 1,787 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 257 yards and 10 touchdowns. Four receivers have more than 280 receiving yards, led by 6-foot-4 Camden Brown with 483 yards, 7 TDs and a 20.1 yard average.

The St. Thomas Aquinas rushing attack features senior running back Anthony Hankerson (888 yards/16 TDs), junior Xavier Terrell (474 yards/9 TDs) and Germari Sands (437 yards/4 TDs).

“Because they have such a balanced attack…we’ve got to play really, really hard-nosed football,” Whittemore said. “These [Raiders] running backs do a great job of yards after contact and they’re very difficult to bring down. So it’s going to be a very physical football game and so we’re mentally prepared for that.”

Buchholz has multiple offensive weapons too with junior quarterback Creed Whittemore passing for 2,101 yards and 24 touchdowns and leads the Bobcats in rushing with 763 yards and 8 TDs.

Multi-purpose senior Quan Lee leads the Bobcats with 928 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns and a 19.3-yard average while racking up 226 yards rushing and 3 TDs and 165 yards on punt returns.

At receiver, senior Adrian Sermons has 558 yards and 6 TDs with an 18.6-yard average and junior Jacarree Kelly with 476 yards and 6 TDs.

“Our receiving corp has done a great job,” Whittemore said. “Obviously Quan Lee is the centerpiece, but Adrian Sermons and Jacarree Kelly have made a lot of explosive plays for us, have been steady and caught the football well. We have very few drops on the year.”

Out of the backfield, junior Amarius Maddox has rushed for 386 yards and 4 TDs and sophomore Quinton Cutler has 341 yards and 3 TDs.

“I’m really excited about Quinton Cutler and what he brings to the table,” Whittemore said. “He’s got slashing speed and the ability to fit through small gaps in our gap scheme.”

The winner of the Buchholz-St. Thomas Aquinas game will advance to the 7A championship game against the winner of the Tampa Bay Tech (13-0) and Lake Gibson (9-3) state semifinal winner at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 17, at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. 

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