Ridaught: Football resumes in Hurricane Ian’s wake

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First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by Hurricane Ian, especially Southwest Florida. It was a catastrophic storm that left many without their lives or homes. 

I give thanks that the damage to most of the north central Florida area was minimal.

As Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “this is going to require years of effort to rebuild and come back.” 

The Naples and Fort Myers areas suffered some of the worst damage. 

County officials said half of the streets in Naples were not passable because of flooding. 

For those in that area who avoided the worst, the aftermath of Hurricane Ian was evident. It will still be difficult to return to normalcy right away. 

That includes high school football. 

DeSoto High School’s football and baseball stadiums were damaged
 by Hurricane Ian, while Venice football coach John Peacock shared pictures of the damage to Powell-Davis Stadium, where the Indians play their home games. 

It’s uncertain when some football programs will be able to resume. 

As stated, we were very fortunate in north central Florida and we’re blessed to have the opportunity to resume the sport right away. 

Last Monday due to the potential impacts of Hurricane Ian, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) granted member schools “authorization to adjust their schedule as necessary while allowing Sunday (Oct. 2) as a permissible practice day.” 

That will benefit teams that are scheduled to play tonight. 

However, safety is still a concern as some teams have two games during the week. 

It will almost feel like Friday night lights tonight as there are a total of six high school football games around the area. 

At 5 p.m., P.K. Yonge will travel to Mount Dora Christian (2-2). 

The Blue Wave (1-3), who won their first game of the season last Tuesday at Santa Fe, took advantage of the one-time practice date. 

“We did meet Sunday morning for practice,” said P.K. Yonge football coach Kevin Doelling. “I owed the boys donuts for the shutout and we watched about an hour of film and did our white board preparation. We were only on the field for about an hour just to get the legs loose, but we still are prioritizing our health concerns.” 

P.K. Yonge, which will travel to West Nassau (Callahan) this Friday, will be playing three games over a 10-day period and four games over 14 days. 

“It’s definitely going to be the most interesting 14 days of my coaching career,” Doelling said “We’ve done a good job of our rehabilitation process and making sure the kids are as fresh as possible, but these are unchartered waters for us. I’m hopeful we can make it through unscathed but playing two games in five days (four games in 14 days) is definitely a concern.” 

Doelling noted that his young team had, “done a great job of keeping their chin up and staying level headed through the beginning of the season.

“Winning at Santa Fe on Tuesday was more confirmation for us that we can compete and succeed at this level,” he said. “We’re focused now on keeping the momentum and riding this wave through the next handful of games.” 

At 6 p.m., Bell (2-3) travels to Seven Rivers Christian (4-1) in Lecanto, while undefeated Oak Hall (4-0) travels to Bronson (0-5). 

Oak Hall, which travels to Harvest Community (Jacksonville) on Friday, will play two games this week. 

“We practiced Friday afternoon and then Saturday morning, so we didn’t have practice yesterday,” Oak Hall football coach R.J. Fuhr said. “It’s not ideal playing two games in one week, but I’m thankful we get to play and feel for the schools in SW Florida. Thoughts and prayers are definitely for them.” 

The visiting Eagles have a chance to stay unbeaten with a win tonight. 

“I like where we are as a team,” Fuhr said. “We have to stay focused this week with two games, but I was very happy with our practice on Saturday and I feel like the kids are in a good place.” 

At 6:30 p.m., Eastside travels to North Marion. It’s the Rams first game in over two weeks (Sept. 16), since a 28-0 home loss to Bradford (Starke)

Meanwhile, the Tornadoes’ game at Keystone Heights was moved to tonight at 7:30 p.m. 

Bradford football coach Jamie Rodgers said his team also took advantage of the Sunday practice date. 

“Brought the players in at 3 p.m. to get a lift in and practiced from 4 to 6 p.m.,” he said. “That was the first Sunday practice in my career.” 

Bradford has six quarters of football this week. Their game on Baker County (Glen St. Mary) this Thursday is a continuation game of a 21-0 second quarter lead that was rained out on Aug. 27

Rodgers said preparation is the biggest factor 

“How to juggle which team to put the most emphasis on,” he noted. “Fortunately, we already played a half against Baker so we know some things about them.” 

The Tornadoes finally allowed their first points of the season on September 23 in a 21-7 win at home against Munroe (Quincy). 

Despite some injures, Bradford is 4-0 heading into tonight’s game against the rival Indians (1-3). 

“We are a little banged up in some spots,” Rodgers said. “Six weeks into the season everyone is banged up. That’s football. We haven’t played our best yet. Hopefully we will continue to get better.” 

Newberry travels to Williston for a big game in Class 1R-Region 4. 

The visiting Panthers (3-1) lost their first game of the season in their last game of action at home on Friday, Sept. 23, against Union County (Lake Butler). 

“I wasn’t sure what to exactly expect this season, but we are growing as the season goes on and working hard to get better each week,” said Newberry coach Ed Johnson. “We have continued to compete for four quarters this year that has allowed us to achieve early success, but we still have so much to improve on.” 

Williston (4-0) has been one of the surprise teams in the area so far. 

“This team has worked very hard over the course of the summer,” said first-year coach Robby Pruitt. “They are learning how to play and I think we will continue to grow and get better.” 

“Newberry is a very solid team with big play potential,” Pruitt said. “They have speed and athleticism at the skilled positions and on the defensive front. We have to minimize the big plays and we have to be very efficient on first down tonight.” 

The most physical team up front might win tonight’s game. 

The Panthers are averaging 9.9 yards per carry (185 yards per game rushing), while the Red Devils are averaging 14.2 ypc and 323.8 yards per game on the ground. 

“Williston is a very good team, well coached and will be a great opportunity for us tonight,” Johnson said. “We have to play assignment football, tackle for four quarters, and take care of the football on our end.” 

Tonight’s game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and online (audio only) at IamCountryRadio.com beginning at 6:30 p.m. 

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. between the Panthers and the Red Devils.

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