One month ago, the Buchholz football team suffered its first loss of the season in a 21-6 loss at Bartram Trail (St. Johns) in a Class 4S-District 3 game.
But on Friday night in a 4S-Region 1 Final, the No. 3 seed Bobcats made enough plays to hand the top-seeded Bears (12-1) their first loss of the season in a 21-20 road victory to send Buchholz to its second straight state semifinal.
“Bartram is a fantastic organization,” said Buchholz coach Mark Whittemore. “What (head coach) Darrell Sutherland has done here over the last 20 years is very impressive. They play hard. They play tough. They are relentless, and obviously the 21-20 score shows you that.”
The game was in doubt when Buchholz (10-2) began its final drive from its own 41-yard line with 6:29 to play and holding on to a 1-point lead.
After a first down completion to wide receiver RJ Livingston and a first down run by running back Quinton Cutler, Buchholz faced a 3rd-and-6 at the Bartram Trail 45-yard line with just under 4:30 to play.
Buchholz quarterback Creed Whittemore, who scored all three of the Bobcats’ touchdowns, completed a pass on the Buchholz sideline to Jacarree Kelly.
The Delaware commit spun away close to the first down marker for an additional couple of yards to the 38-yard line for a key first down with 3:42 to play.
On the next play, Cutler ran for 11 yards down to the Bears’ 27-yard line with 2:54 remaining.
Bartram Trail called its final timeout with 1:55 to play and Buchholz facing a 4th-and-4 at the 21-yard line.
Buchholz could have sent in senior kicker Reed Rousseau, who made a 37-yard field goal late to beat Vanguard in Ocala in September, for a potential 4-point lead.
Instead, the Bobcats decided to go for it and Cutler, a 5’8 junior, gained five yards up the middle for a game-clinching first down as Bartram Trail was unable to stop the clock.
“I know Rousseau really wanted to have that kick but we just figured we’re kind of in an advantage situation here, we’ve been moving the football pretty well, so we had a call that we felt like could get the job done,” Whittemore said. “But credit to Quinton Cutler. The kid is tough as nails and his little body got in there and got that extra half yard and we ended up with the first down.”
Bartram Trail won the coin toss but elected to kick off.
On its first possession of the game, facing a 3rd-and-12 from its own 18-yard line, Whittemore gave the Bobcats the momentum early, scoring on an 82-yard run on the third play of the game.
“Coming into the game that was a play we worked on, a QB-draw type thing,” said Creed Whittemore. “I gave them a three step, bounce, bounce, and went, so that was a big play for us all week and it’s fun to capitalize on plays that you work on in practice.”
Following a Bartram Trail fumble that was recovered by junior Thomas Weinhardt, Buchholz marched 45 yards for the score, capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by Whittemore with 8:21 to play in the half for a 14-0 lead.
The Bears answered when a Buchholz defender fell down as Bartram Trail junior quarterback Riley Trujillo completed a 69-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Taylor Rhodes. That cut the deficit in half, 14-7, just 25 seconds later.
However, Bartram Trail turned the ball over again in its own territory on its next possession and senior linebacker Colin Nechodom recovered at the Bears’ 35-yard line.
It appeared the drive would stall as Buchholz faced a 4th-and-24 at the 28-yard line late in the first half.
Whittemore ran 24 yards for the first down and then completed the drive with a 2-yard run with 1:26 to play in the second quarter.
“I think it was big just going up 21-7 on a team that wants to run the clock,” Creed Whittemore said. “They want to get out in front of you and grind it on you and I think our mindset coming into this game was to give them what they give us, so we tried to come out and pound them and run straight downhill on them.”
The Mississippi State commit went from having three turnovers in the first meeting to having no turnovers in the second matchup.
“Obviously he was a difference maker tonight,” Coach Whittemore said. “He kept his cool, was very diligent about running the offense and did a great job of managing his emotions, which he didn’t do in game one very well.”
Bartram Trail junior kicker Liam Padron kicked a 34-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in the half to trim the Buchholz lead to 21-10 at the break.
The Bears took the second half kick and marched 81 yards, scoring on a 3-yard run by junior Laython Biddle on 4th-and-1 with 7:06 to play in the third quarter.
After Buchholz’s next drive stalled, Bartram Trail converted a 4th-and-1 from their own 35-yard line. The Bears ended up closing the gap to 21-20 on a 46-yard field goal by Padron with 9:44 to play in the game.
Despite no points in the second half, the Bobcats were able to hold on and knock off the overall No. 1 seed in Class 4S.
“We got some really big stops and won the turnover battle which actually ended up being the tale of the tape,” Coach Whittemore said.
Up next is a trip to Venice next Friday night. The Indians (8-3) eliminated Riverview (Sarasota), 31-15, in the Region 4 Final.
“Wow, it’s awesome,” said Creed Whittemore. “To do it with these group of guys, Kelly, Jaren (Hamilton), and Quinton, played a great game tonight, it’s special to do it with these guys.”
Results – Friday, Nov. 25
Class 1R-Region 3
Union County (Lake Butler) 41, Lafayette (Mayo) 6
Class 1R-Region 4
Hawthorne 21, Pahokee 20
Class 1S-Region 2
Trinity Catholic (Ocala) 48, P.K. Yonge 7
Class 2S-Region 1
Florida State University (Tallahassee) 38, Suwannee (Live Oak) 13
Class 2S-Region 2
Bradford (Starke) 28, Baker County (Glenn St. Mary) 17
Class 3S-Region 1
Columbia (Lake City) 20, Choctawhatchee 14, OT
Class 4S-Region 1
Buchholz 21, Bartram Trail (St. Johns) 20