What a year for high school football.
It’s hard to believe but this Friday is the final week of the regular season.
Where did it go? It came and went so fast, although early on I was wondering how we were going to make it through with all the rain that we had.
Two of our first three radio broadcasts ended up getting canceled or postponed due to weather.
And when the hurricane shut things down it ensured that we would play high school football this fall on a Monday night, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
The Thursday and Friday games are the norm, but Santa Fe (Alachua) played P.K. Yonge on Tuesday, Sept. 27, after playing Gainesville the previous Friday.
And P.K. Yonge, which also played a game at Mount Dora Christian on Monday, Oct. 3, played three games in 10 days.
Some teams had their game(s) canceled due to the weather, and we wondered if Citizens Field would ever be playable again.
It seems so long ago since Buchholz defeated Columbia (Lake City) on Thursday, Aug. 25, to start the season, along with Gainesville’s game against Vanguard (Ocala) the next night which got moved to Ocala on Saturday as weather wreaked havoc throughout the region.
Here are my top three games this Friday night as we head into the final week of the regular season.
At number three is a toss up between Newberry (6-2) at South Sumter (Bushnell), which is 9-0, and Bradford (Starke), which is also 9-0, at Suwannee (Live Oak).
Both games feature teams each with winning streaks.
Newberry has won three in a row since a 42-19 loss at Williston on Monday, Oct. 3.
“The key during this streak has been playing fundamentally sound football and winning is all three phases,” said Newberry coach Ed Johnson.
The Panthers (6-2) have only given up 21 points in their last three games and they posted their first shutout of the season with a 30-0 win vs. Dixie County (Cross City) last Thursday.
“Our defense has been very good the last few games, forcing turnovers, limiting big plays and playing with a great amount of energy,” Johnson said. “On offense we have been taking care of the football and finding explosive plays when needed. We have also been very good on special teams.”
It will take a complete game to win at South Sumter, which has four shutouts and has outscored its nine opponents, 376-62. The host Raiders are ranked fifth in the state in Class 2S by MaxPreps.
“South Sumter is a very well coached and physical team,” Johnson said. “They fly around on defense and make it tough for opposing offenses to find any rhythm. We have to exceed their energy on the defensive side, take care of the football and make the plays when we get the opportunity to do so.”
Suwannee (7-2), which just picked up a forfeit win against Flagler Palm Coast, has won five in a row, including a 22-14 upset win at Wakulla (Crawfordville) last Friday.
The Bulldogs host a Bradford team that is banged up but still managed to handle a 7-1 Palatka team on the road, 35-14, last Friday to win the Class 2S-District 6 title.
Both teams enter the game ranked top 10 in the state. Bradford is third in 2S, while Suwannee is ranked ninth.
The number two game on my list this week is the city showdown between host Gainesville and Eastside at Citizens Field.
Who would have guessed that Gainesville would win eight games last year, and a district title, but go winless the following season?
There’s still a chance to win a game in 2022 in what will be the final game as head coach for Gainesville’s Dock Pollard, who resigned on Friday.
Can the Hurricanes (0-9) send their coach out with a win or will Eastside spoil Senior Night?
The Rams, who will be radio guests (106.9 FM “I am Country” on “The Prep Zone” sports show this Wednesday (7-8 p.m.) at Sonic Drive-In, just won their first district title in 10 years this past Friday night with a 28-3 win at home against Santa Fe.
Eastside is also looking to break a 14-game losing streak to their rival on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and will be video streamed as part of the Mainstreet Daily News Game of the Week beginning at 7 p.m.
But the biggest game this week, in my opinion, is the Levy County showdown between Williston and Chiefland.
It’s a match-up of two of the top eight teams in the state in Class 1R, according to MaxPreps.
Chiefland improved to 6-1 with a 41-14 win at Fort White last Friday.
Senior Michael Tovine threw for 144 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and junior Dakota Fisher rushed for 136 yards on just 13 carries for the Indians, who will host unbeaten Williston (9-0) this Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
Williston, which is ranked eighth in 1R, only won one game last year, but they have yet to lose this season under first-year coach Robby Pruitt.
Pruitt coached University Christian School (Jacksonville) to four state Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) championships in 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1992 before moving to Union County High School (Lake Butler), where he led the Tigers to three consecutive state titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and a state record 52 consecutive victories.
No one had the Red Devils being undefeated this season even with an FHSAA Hall of Fame coach bringing hope to Williston.
Gainesville transfers Shooby Coleman and Kyree Edwards have made a huge difference.
Coleman doesn’t throw much, but he has seven touchdowns and no interceptions, along with 571 yards, despite throwing it less than 4.5 times per game. He also has 148 yards and six touchdowns on the ground on just 12 carries.
Edwards has 1,160 yards on the ground with 25 touchdowns on 66 carries. He is averaging 17.6 yards per carry.
“I’m more concerned with what Williston hasn’t shown on film than anything else,” said Chiefland coach James Corbin. “They’ve been able to dominate their opponents doing what they do and doing it at an exceptional level. Because of this, I anticipate them having some wrinkles in the playbook that haven’t been called yet because it hasn’t been necessary.”
Because of Edwards, Williston has the chance to open up the passing game.
“They do a really good job of carrying out their play fakes and causing confusion for our secondary and linebackers,” Corbin said. “It will take a very disciplined football game out of us on Friday to be able to secure a win. Players will have to focus on their assignment and can’t try and help someone do their job or we’re going to get burnt. Overall, I anticipate a great game here at Wayne Pridgeon Stadium Friday night.”
Chiefland’s only loss this season was to Florida State University High School (Tallahassee), which is ranked second in the state in Class 2S.
“Florida High really showed us where we are in terms of the bigger picture,” Corbin said. “We made a lot of mistakes, but they were self-inflicted. We gave up 13 penalties that night to their zero. That’s completely unacceptable, but again, is something that can be worked on.”
The Indians, who are ranked third in the state in Class 1R, have played a tough schedule that includes wins against Class 2S No. 9 Suwannee and Class 1R No. 6 Wildwood this season.
“I think we’ve played some really good football up to this point in the season,” Corbin said. “Obviously, we have our flaws and things that need to be addressed, but feel as if they’re things we can correct. At no point do I ever feel we’re being out manned or out coached, and as long as we can keep ourselves in that position, and we can clean up our mental mistakes, then we can continue to be a really good football team.”
Fisher has a chance to go over 1,000 yards for the season. The junior, who has six 100-yard rushing games this season, has carried the ball 91 times for 930 yards (10.2 average) with nine touchdowns.
Freshman Jonathan Adams (11 sacks) leads a defense that is allowing just 13.7 points per game.
Williston hasn’t played a tough schedule but the Red Devils are averaging 50.4 points per game.
The first round of the FHSAA state playoffs is next Friday, Nov. 11.