Bradford (Starke) used its suffocating defense to strangle Eastside in a 37-0 Class 2S-Region 2 Semifinal game Friday in Starke.
Behind three interceptions and a blocked punt, the top-seeded Tornadoes (11-1) collected their ninth shutout of the season and never allowed the Rams (8-3) to cross midfield in the second half.
It was a rematch of the Week 4 contest that Bradford won 28-0 at Citizens Field on Sept. 16.
“It was a really good performance overall and it’s always good to win 37-0,” said Bradford first-year coach Jamie Rodgers.
The Rams took the opening kickoff at its 33-yard line and used a quick-strike passing game to go on a 12-play drive that stalled at the Bradford 14-yard line. Caleb Dressel’s 31-yard field goal attempt went wide, ending what would be Eastside’s best chance at scoring.
“I thought initially when I watched our film against them from Week 4, and they had a couple guys at slot receiver that could really run and we played a little bit off of them,” Rodgers said. “They didn’t exploit it last time, but I knew coming into this they would try to exploit it and they did, get the ball out of quick. They couldn’t handle our rush. We fixed that and went a little man free and that was about it.”
Bradford responded with an 80-yard, 16-play drive capped by Dae’jon Shanks’ 3-yard touchdown run with 10:45 left in the second quarter.
Two negatives happened on Eastside’s next possession. After advancing to the Bradford 49-yard line, an 8-yard sack set the Rams back on their 46. On the next play, one of Eastside’s top wide receivers – Antoneo Wilson – was leveled on an incomplete pass. Wilson stayed down, had to be placed on a backboard, and carted off the field.
Two plays later, on a 4th-and-18, Dejon McBride blocked Dressel’s punt and the Tornadoes recovered it at the Eastside 44-yard line.
Bradford wasted little time as Willie Pollard raced 41 yards for a touchdown two plays later with 5:38 left in the half.
The Tornadoes ended Eastside’s next drive when C.J. Carn intercepted a Holden Johnson pass at the Rams’ 43-yard line.
The second half started fast for Bradford with Jametrius Pringle returning the kickoff to the Tornadoes’ 45-yard line. On the next play, Pollard darted down the left sideline 55 yards for a touchdown.
“You come out (of halftime) and get a score and up 21-0, you give us a 21-0 lead and we’re going to be pretty good against anybody,” Rodgers said. “And start compounding the turnovers on top of that, it kind of got away from (Eastside) a little bit and that’s what’s supposed to happen when you’re at home and have the home-field advantage. Those things start to snowball and that’s what it’s supposed to look like.”
Eastside’s next two possessions ended on interceptions from Pringle and Chalil Cummings, but the Rams’ defense was able to slow the Bradford offense until 2:06 left in the third quarter when Hayden Hughes kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 24-0 lead.
Bradford would add to its advantage in the fourth quarter when quarterback Jeremiah McKenzie found Pringle on a short pass over the middle and Pringle weaved his way 53 yards for a score with 9:23 left. A missed PAT made it 30-0.McKenzie would hook up with Shanks on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 6:34 remaining in the game, leading to a 37-0 lead and a running clock.
“Honestly, (Bradford’s) a great team,” said Eastside first-year coach Harold “Gator” Hoskins. “I take my hat off to those guys. They’ve got a great program over here. They fight, they believe in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if those guys were not in the state championship.”
The Rams, coming off a 2-8 season in 2021, claimed their first district title in 10 years and won its opening playoff game over North Marion (Citra) last Friday.
“I’m proud of this season,” Hoskins said. “I challenged those guys over the offseason, ‘let’s leave it better than where you got it.’ They came out there and played their hearts out every week. We’re down numbers, we’ve been through a lot this whole season, we lost a guy, had a couple rainout games, but those guys fought. I’m proud of them.”
Bradford will face Baker City (Glen St. Mary), who defeated Baldwin 31-29 on Friday, in a rematch of a 21-0 Week 1 Tornadoes’ win. The Region Final will be played in Starke at 7 p.m. next Friday, Nov. 25.
Friday, Nov. 18, results
Class 1R-Region 3
Union County (Lake Butler) 27, No. 4 Madison County 16
Class 1R-Region 4
Hawthorne 33, Wildwood 15
Pahokee 50, Chiefland 28
Class 1S-Region 2
P.K. Yonge 35, Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy (Melbourne) 3
Class 2S-Region 1
Suwannee (Live Oak) 17, West Florida 14
Class 2S-Region 2
Bradford (Starke) 37, Eastside 0
Class 3S-Region 1
Columbia (Lake City) 17, Escambia (Pensacola) 15
Class 4S-Region 1
Buchholz 54, Crestview 33