The Buchholz football team is off to a 2-0 start.
That’s not a surprise.
The Bobcats, who were in the Class 7A state semifinals last year, are expected to make another lengthy postseason run.
However, Eastside is 2-0 for the first time since 2009. Eastside alum Harold ‘Gator’ Hoskins has Rams’ fans excited again.
The two city rivals will go head-to-head on Friday night at Citizens Field.
It’s a big game, but for Hoskins, it’s just another game on the schedule.
“It’s a big game only because it’s the next game,” he said. “We look at every opponent the same. We’ll be ready to play.”
Hoskins said the key against the Bobcats is just “competing, playing hard.”
“We’ve been doing a great job so far so let’s just go out there and play and complete,” he said.
In a 31-14 win at home against Columbia (Lake City) in week one, he also had a 66-yard scoring run.
Senior wide receivers Jacarree Kelly, who returned an interception for a TD against Columbia on defense, and Jaren Hamilton, who has an offer from Alabama, are playmakers. Hamilton returned the opening kick 89 yards for a score last week against Riverview.
Senior James Williams and freshman R.J. Livingston give Whittemore additional options in the passing game, plus junior running back Quinton Cutler gives the team some balance out of the backfield.
The Buchholz defense almost pitched a shutout last week, giving Riverview a short field after a fumble at the Buchholz 30-yard line on the visiting Rams’ only touchdown drive of the night.
“Considering we only returned three starters from last year’s defense, I’m very pleased with the level of maturity and focus our kids have shown thus far in holding two quality opponents to minimal offensive success,” said Buchholz defensive coordinator Chuck Bell. “The three returning starters (Kendall Jackson, Gavin Hill, and Donny Hiebert) have done an outstanding job maintaining and conveying the standard of excellence we strive for on defense at Buchholz.”
Hill, a UF commit, and Jackson, who has an offer from the Gators, have been solid.
But it’s been the play of Thomas Weinhardt which has helped mold the defense. Weinhardt led the team with 10 tackles, including a sack and three tackles for a loss, against Columbia, and he blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a score last week against Riverview.
“We’ve shown the ability to rush the passer at a high level (10 sacks in two games) and also have had some success creating turnovers which is a big formula for success on defense,” Bell said. “Arguably the most important thing we’ve been able to do so far is play great 3rd down defense. Our opponents have only converted on 2-of-17 third down attempts.”
The Eastside offense, which has scored 74 points in two games, could provide the Bobcats with a test.
“Coach Hoskins and his staff have done a great job on offense through their first two games,” Bell said. “While the schemes they utilize are very similar to the past couple of years, it’s clear they’re willing to take more risks than in years past and it has paid off for them.”
Those “risks” have led to a total of seven touchdowns passes by senior quarterback Holden Johnson.
“They showcase an experienced quarterback and a talented group of wide Receivers who have had a lot of success creating big plays in the passing game,” Bell said. “They’ve used a couple of different running backs, who all run hard, and even the quarterback has found some success in the run game.”
Junior Antoneo Wilson hauled in a 91-yard touchdown pass last week. He finished with 170 yards receiving on just four receptions and two TDs.
“The key against Buchholz, we probably have to open up the passing game a little more against them and the running backs are going to have to do their job as they did tonight too (last Thursday),” said Wilson.
Wilson was one of four receivers who caught a scoring toss from Johnson last week, joining junior Antonio Hubbert, senior Jemall Dix, and sophomore Davion Pugh.
In the season-opening 48-21 win at P.K. Yonge, junior Chris Bishop had two rushing touchdowns and senior Micah Hudson added a scoring run against the Blue Wave.
In the 26-0 win against Keystone Heights last Thursday, the Rams posted their first shutout since 2018 (64-0 win at Brooksville Central).
“Overall, this is clearly a much more motivated Rams team than what we’ve faced in years past and Coach Hoskins has his guys playing extremely hard,” Bell said. “Considering they are 2-0 for the first time in over a decade, Eastside has a lot of positive momentum right now and it seems to have rejuvenated their fanbase. It should be a great atmosphere at Citizens Field on Friday night and their offense will certainly provide a great test for the Bobcat defense.”
The Bobcats won last year’s meeting, 42-7, as Whittemore threw for 205 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I think we should beat them soundly,” Weinhardt said. “We have to play with a lot of effort and heart.”
Buchholz has won nine in a row in the series but Bobcats’ head coach Mark Whittemore expects a closer game. After all, it is a city rivalry.
“I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” Whittemore said. “We’ve got to stay poised. It’s a city rivalry, they’re 2-0, there’s going to be a lot of expectation on both sides so we’re going to need to make sure we take care of the business.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. on Friday from Citizen’s Field.
The game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and online at IamCountryRadio.com beginning with the pregame show at 6:30 p.m.