About 30 minutes prior to the 7 p.m. kickoff of Buchholz’s season opener at Citizens Field against visiting Columbia (Lake City), the sky got dark and the rain began to fall.
It rained so hard and steady that there was some doubt as to whether the game would be played on Thursday night or moved to Saturday morning.
“We went ahead and made the decision to play tonight, obviously I’m glad we did because we were a gnat’s whisker away from trying to play on Saturday,” said Buchholz coach Mark Whittemore. “But in this rainy week, here in Florida, it’s just going to keep raining, so Coach Jackson and myself said ‘hey, let’s just do it.’”
At 8:17 p.m. the high school football season officially began in Gainesville.
The visiting Tigers won the toss but 10 unanswered Buchholz points spanning the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter sparked the Bobcats to a 31-14 win against the Tigers.
“Hats off to Columbia, they’re a tremendous football program,” Whittemore said. “Coach Jackson has done a great job taking over for Brian Allen. It’s a storied program, but you know what, we are too. They’ve had our number though so hopefully we can steal a few here.”
The Bobcats (1-0) won for just the second time in the last 11 meetings.
“I don’t see how many more teams are going to be as good as Buchholz,” said Columbia coach Demetric Jackson. “You may find a team that probably has a better secondary, but if we face a team that has as good a D-line and as many weapons offensively, at least we’ve already seen it.”
The mushy, spongy field caused several miscues and turnovers, including one late in the first quarter.
Buchholz’s Reed Rousseau made a 27-yard kick with 1:10 to play in the opening quarter to give the Bobcats a 3-0 lead. But on the ensuing kickoff the Tigers (0-1) coughed it up and RJ Livingston recovered for the Bobcats at the Columbia 34-yard line.
It was one of four Columbia turnovers in the game.
Facing a 4th-and-2, Bobcat quarterback Creed Whittemore completed a screen pass across to the middle to senior wide receiver Jacarree Kelly, who spun his way to a 12-yard gain and a key first down.
A few players later, Whittemore ran it in from a yard out. Rousseau’s extra point gave Buchholz a 10-0 lead with 9:45 to play in the opening half.
Former Hawthorne quarterback Tyler Jefferson started the game but on its next possession, Columbia made a change at quarterback.
Aided by two Buchholz pass interference calls and a late hit, junior quarterback Evan Umstead found Dailyn Bradley on the left sideline for a 26-yard scoring play to bring the Tigers within three at 10-7 with 8:22 to play in the half.
However, that’s as close as Columbia would get the rest of the night.
Following the touchdown, Creed raced 66 yards for a Buchholz score to give Buchholz a 17-7 lead a little over 30 seconds later.
“This means a lot for the Bobcat community,” Creed said. “I think this was our year. We put them back on the schedule. I mean look at the field, it wasn’t the circumstances we were looking for, we’re more of a passing team we want to get the ball downfield, but in big-time games you’ve got to make big-time plays and I think that’s what we did tonight.”
With Columbia backed up to its 10-yard line on the next possession, Umstead’s pass was intercepted by Kelly, who returned it 24 yards for the score. Rousseau’s kick gave the Bobcats a 24-7 lead with 7:05 to play in the half.
Whittemore, a University of Florida commit, threw a 39-yard TD pass down the left sidelines to Jaren Hamilton, who holds an Alabama offer, for a 31-7 Buchholz lead with 11:06 to play to put the game on ice — or mud.
Columbia answered on Jefferson’s first touchdown of the season, throwing a 75-yard bomb down the middle of the field to sophomore Bynton Edge with 10:27 to play to make it 31-14.
“He did some good things but there are some things that he’s got to do better,” Jackson said of his starting QB. “Turning the ball over is hurting us. The turnovers, he’s got to do better, and he’s also got to take what they give us. He’s kind of looking for the deep ball.”
Kelly almost put an exclamation on the victory, but his 59-yard touchdown run was called back due to a holding penalty.
But instead of an exclamation, there was a question mark.
As players were lining up following the holding penalty, the entire Columbia defense dropped to the ground while many of the spectators scattered after a taser was used to stop a fight in the stands. It was definitely a shooting scare.
“Someone was tased and the taser actually has a [distinct] sound,” Mark Whittemore explained. “I didn’t hear anything. I just saw the other side go down and then everybody else kind of got the message. I thought the officers from GPD and ASO did a fantastic job of assessing the situation so really kudos to them. I’m glad they’re here.”
Buchholz will host Riverview (Sarasota) next Friday, Sept. 2, while Columbia will travel to Union County (Lake Butler).