Ridaught: October big month for football

Football on grass with yardage markers

With September now behind us, high school football should get intense in the month of October as teams try to earn a spot in November’s state playoffs.

District championships are at stake during the month. Play is beginning to heat up as we separate the pretenders from the contenders.

The last district playing date is Oct. 28, so district champions will be decided by the end of the month.

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The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) released its football rankings on Wednesday, Sept. 27, and the highest ranked team in the area was Bradford (Starke), which was ranked No. 1 in Class 2S and 10th overall in Florida.

The Tornadoes’ quest for a district title could come down to a trip to Palatka on Friday, Oct. 28. However, Bradford must first defeat Tocoi Creek (St. Augustine) at home on Oct. 14.

Bradford finally allowed its first points of the season in a 21-7 win at home against Munroe (Quincy). Prior to that, the Tornadoes didn’t allow a score spanning 14 quarters.

They were shutting out Baker County (Glen St. Mary), 21-0, in the second quarter in the season opener when the game was suspended due to weather. That game will be made up on Thursday, Oct. 6, at Baker County.

The Tornadoes then proceeded to shut out Baldwin (35-0) and Middleburg (21-0) at home, followed by a 28-0 win at Eastside.

Heading into the season the top two teams in Alachua County were Hawthorne and Buchholz.

This was based on their finish in 2021 as Hawthorne was the Class 1A state runner-up and Buchholz lost in the Class 7A state semifinals.

October is a critical month for both.

The Hornets will play their biggest game of the season on Friday, Oct. 14, at Union County (Lake Butler) in a Class 1R showdown. The host Tigers could be No. 1 in the state before kickoff.

Hawthorne is loaded with talent, including Division-I players Jailen Ruth (Washington State), Stanley Cooks (Georgia State) and Mozell Williams (Rutgers), among others.

Union County has its own big names in senior dual threat quarterback AJ Cortese (over 1,100 yards passing/rushing), running back Rayvon Durant (696 yards and eight TDs), and Markus Strong (team-leading 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks), among others.

Last year, Hawthorne lost by one point to Madison County in the Class 1A state championship game and Union County was undefeated until falling to Chiefland in a regional final. So, this is a good measuring stick for both programs with a state playoff vibe.

But it’s not the only big game on the schedule for the Hornets.

Perhaps the more anticipated game is Oct. 21 at home against North Marion (Citra), which made the Class 5A playoffs last season. The Hornets lost to the Colts in 7-on-7 drills last summer which “got very heated,” according to Ruth, so they were looking forward to the rematch during the regular season in 2021, but the game didn’t happen.

“We weren’t able to play them last year (due to weather) and that’s a game everybody was looking forward to,” Cooks noted. “Now with us being able to play them this year, I feel like it’s going to be a big crowd once we play them.”

Buchholz was ranked 11th overall in the FHSAA standings and No. 2 in Class 4S.

The Bobcats (4-0), who host rival Gainesville (0-6) on Thursday, Oct. 6 (7 p.m. kick on 106.9 FM “I am Country”), have a big district game at home against Oakleaf (Orange Park) on Oct. 14 to start a tough 3-game league swing.

Their district has been noted as one of the toughest in the state and also includes Bartram Trail (St. Johns), Creekside (St. Johns), and Fleming Island (Orange Park).

Buchholz travels to Bartram Trail on Oct. 21 and concludes the district slate with a home game against Fleming Island on Thursday, Oct. 27.

Also, keep an eye on Chiefland and Williston in Class 1A. Both teams are undefeated heading into the month of October, along with Oak Hall School, which competes in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference.

And don’t forget about Columbia (Lake City).

Despite three losses heading into the month, the Tigers (2-3) have played a tough schedule that includes Buchholz, Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) — ranked 5th overall in the FHSAA rankings — Union County and defending 1A state champion Madison County.

Expect Columbia to win the Class 3S-District 3 title at home against Ridgeview (Orange Park) on Oct. 28.

Those are the favorites, but there’s also underdogs and spoilers.

October is the playoffs before the playoffs. There’s a lot at stake.

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