In a game that saw Buchholz battle back from a major hole, it was the hometown Venice football team that came out on top on Friday.
The Bobcats fell behind 28-0 in the FHSAA Class 4S state semifinal round before erasing the deficit, but Buchholz (10-3) came up short, 42-35, in its second straight final four exit.
Buchholz senior quarterback Creed Whittemore – who accounted for all three of the Bobcats’ touchdowns in a 21-20 win over Bartram Trail (St. Johns) in a 4S-Region 1 Final on Nov. 25 and added five touchdowns in a 54-33 win over Crestview the week before – had a couple of early miscues that ended drives and led a quick Venice start.
The Bobcats were driving down the field on its first possession when Whittemore, a Mississippi State commit, fumbled the ball and the Indians recovered. Venice (9-3) would score on a Brooks Bentley 13-yard pass.
Buchholz punted on its next drive and, after consecutive false start penalties backed the Indians to their 10-yard line, Venice would go 90 yards capped by a Bentley 14-yard pass to Alvin Johnson for a 14-0 lead with 1:40 left in the first quarter.
Things went from bad to worse on the next drive as Whittemore was intercepted by Elliot Washington, leading to a Bentley 4-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
The Bobcats punted on its next drive and Bentley would find Ryan Matulevich on a 37-yard scoring strike that put the Indians ahead 28-0 with 5:36 left in the half.
Buchholz would finally get on the board with 55 seconds left in the first half when junior running back Quinton Cutler scored on a 13-yard run to cap a 65-yard drive.
“It’s our fault for putting ourselves behind the chains like that,” said Buchholz coach Mark Whittemore. “I mean 28-7, I mean shoot, and it was a couple of costly mistakes. You just can’t do that to a team that has No. 11 (Damon Wilson), 0 (Washington) and a couple kids who are just, you know, you can’t give them an edge like that. We gave them more than an edge.”
The momentum started shifting when Buchholz took the second-half kickoff and marched down the field 68 yards with Whittemore finding senior wide receiver Jaren Hamilton, an Alabama commit, for a 48-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-14.
With Venice driving for a potential score, Buchholz senior Donny Hiebert intercepted a pass at the Bobcats’ 5-yard line and Cutler would run for a 75-yard touchdown with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
The Buchholz defense stiffened on the next Venice possession and the Indians punted to the Bobcats’ 14-yard line. Buchholz marched down the field keyed by a deep pass to Hamilton that went to the Venice 4-yard line. Whittemore tied the score on the next play with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
“We’ve got some kids who have a lot of fight in them,” Coach Whittemore said. “We’ve got some kids who flat play hard, really hard. So I’m not surprised that we came out and gave a really great effort.”
Venice seized control on the next drive following a big kickoff return that led to a Jamarice Wilder 10-yard touchdown run to put the Indians back on top 35-28 with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
Following a Buchholz punt, the Indians scored again when Bentley scampered 62 yards for a touchdown with 9:07 to go in the fourth quarter and a 42-28 lead.
Whittemore connected with Hamilton on a 44-yard touchdown on the Bobcats’ next drive to pull within 42-35 with 5:18 left in the contest, but Venice was able to run out the clock to close the game.
“I think scoring 35 for us against that team obviously we were going to have to hold them to about that to legitimately have a chance to win,” Coach Whittemore said. “Coach (John) Peacock does a great job with this (Venice) program. Obviously, it’s a storied program. Not that ours isn’t, but they’ve got three championships and we’ve got one.”
For Buchholz – who advanced to its second state semifinal contest after falling to St. Thomas Aquinas (Ft. Lauderdale) last year – the loss is particularly hard on the outgoing seniors.
“Yes of course, very difficult for our seniors, but you know it was a great season, we just came up a little short against a really, really well-coached and talented program,” Coach Whittemore said.
Friday, Dec. 2 – State Semifinals
Hawthorne (10-0) 28, Blountstown 0
Northview (Bratt) 21, Union County (Lake Butler) 11
Cocoa 31, Bradford (Starke) 21
Lake Wales 37, Columbia (Lake City) 7
Venice 42, Buchholz 35