Ridaught: Separating pretenders from contenders

Hawthorne's C.J. Ingram and Union County's A.J. Cortese
Hawthorne quarterback C.J. Ingram (left) and Union County quarterback A.J. Cortese have helped lead their teams to tonight's Class 1R state semifinals. If the Hornets and Tigers win, they will play each other for the state title next Saturday night in Tallahassee (photos by C.J. Gish).
Photos by C.J. Gish

A total of nine teams in the Main Street Daily News coverage area are still alive in the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) state playoffs.

Only three of them (Hawthorne and Union in Class 1R and Bradford in 2S) are No. 1 seeds.

If the cream rises to the top then all three teams should advance to the next round.

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However, none of those teams are guaranteed a pass to the next round even though all three will be at home. You still have to play the games.

On Oct. 14 in Lake Butler, Hawthorne rallied from a 21-0 halftime deficit to stun Union County, 28-21, on a touchdown with just five seconds to play.

The win kept intact an unbeaten season for the Hornets (8-0), who defeated 2S playoff participant North Marion (Citra) the week after.

That helped Hawthorne string together back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

“I think this year we have a very resilient team that focuses week in and week out on the assignment on hand,” said Hawthorne defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins, whose defense is allowing just 9.4 points per game (ppg). “We had to play a few games without key players due to injuries and our team did not flinch.”

They also played a lot of schools this year that they had never played before, like Gibbs (St. Pete) and Orlando Christian Prep.

“The unfamiliarity in our opponents could have allowed for our team to overlook other opponents, however that has not been the case,” Adkins said. “We accept the weekly challenge and honestly each week we have gotten better on correcting mistakes from the prior week.”

Since the first half of the Union County game, the Hornets have outscored their opponents 93-0.

“We definitely ended the year on a nice run, and I believe halftime at Union County was the turning point for our season,” Adkins said. “Where a lot of teams lay down, our team accepted the challenge, fought their way back, won the game and have been playing energized since then.”

Following Wildwood’s 46-35 win at previously unbeaten Williston (10-1), the Hornets are the only remaining undefeated team in the area.

Top seed Hawthorne will host No. 5 seed Wildwood (8-2) this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in a Class 1R-Region 4 Semifinal. The game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” beginning at 7 p.m.

“Wildwood is a team loaded with athletes,” Adkins said. “There are multiple games where they had different leading receivers, rushers, quarterbacks, etc. You have to be able to cover the entire field to take away their dynamic playmakers.”

In last Saturday’s win at No. 4 seed Williston, Wildcats’ quarterback Jamari Dickens had a monster game offensively while also playing every snap at safety.

According to Drew Chaltry of The Villages Daily Sun, Dickens completed 16-of-24 passes for 412 yards with four touchdowns and also rushed for 116 yards and two scores on only six carries.

“Being able to disrupt the timing in the passing game, along with not allowing the ‘big’ plays will be vital to our success this week,” Adkins said. “We have to make them earn every yard and have to put drives together to put ourselves in the best position moving forward. If we can do that, we have a great opportunity to advance to the next round.”

The winner will face either No. 2 Pahokee or No. 3 seed Chiefland. 

The Indians, who will make the long road trip to The Muck, advanced with a 49-7 win against No. 6 seed Newberry.

“Overall, I was pleased with the way our kids handled themselves,” said Chiefland coach James Corbin. “I was worried about the psychological toll of losing to a rival (Williston) playing a factor in the game and the week leading up to it. It had been well communicated with the team that we would need to use that loss as a reason to come together and fix things, rather than point fingers or sulk in the loss.”

It didn’t take long for the Indians to put that behind them as they raced out to a 21-0 lead in the opening quarter.

“The team came out from the opening kickoff looking to make a statement,” Corbin said. “With that said, we still had a turnover and got stopped twice in the red zone. That’s something we can’t afford to do. When we find ourselves in a position to put points on the board, we have to be able to capitalize. I think it was a great team win, however, and something we’re looking forward to building off of.”

Pahokee, which is ranked No. 1 in Class 1R by MaxPreps, has a 2,400 yard passer in sophomore Austin Simmons.

“Pahokee is a very similar team to Newberry in terms of how they’re going to attack our defense,” Corbin said. “They have some fantastic athletes on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. They have both a 2,000 yard passer and a 1,000 yard rusher, so we know they can be versatile in their approach.”

The Indians (7-2) counter with a ball-control offense that has scored 308 points for an average of 34.2 ppg.

They have their own 1,000 yard back in junior Dakota Fisher, who is averaging 9.6 yards per carry with 13 touchdowns. He had 211 yards on 19 carries in the win against the Panthers (6-4). 

The Indians are averaging 226.2 yards per game (ypg) on the ground.

“Fortunately for us, Pahokee hasn’t seen a wing-t team all year” Corbin said. “That should give us a slight edge as it is unfamiliar territory for them. We know we’ll have to execute in every aspect in the game in order to escape the muck, but we’re catching our stride at the best point in the year. It will be a great game.”

Equally challenging is Union County’s home game on Friday against Madison County. 

The Tigers proved to be a contender last year before losing by just two points in the region final at Chiefland.

With a win against Class 3S Columbia (Lake City), which is traveling to No. 2 Escambia (Pensacola) in 3S-Region 1, UCHS proved it would be a team in the mix again this year.

They closed the season with a win against Class 2S playoff participant Walton (DeFuniak Springs) to finish with a two-game winning streak.

“Regular season was different, challenging in ways,” said Union County coach Andrew Thomas. “We had some good competition that I feel is prepping us for the playoffs but different in all the open dates we had, cancellations on a couple games, struggled with scheduling, which made for only eight games, but in a way has been good that we have stayed fresh and are healthy.”

The sting of the Hornets’ game serves as a motivator for the Tigers.

“We are one play away from everyone talking about us but we like being the sleeper,” Thomas said. “Season has gone by extremely fast. I like where we are at as a team.”

In order to advance to the regional final, they will have to knock off the defending 1A state champions.

With games against 4S Oakleaf (Orange Park), 2S FSU High, and 2S Suwannee (Live Oak), the Cowboys (4-6) have played up in competition this year and are ranked seventh in the state in Class 1R by MaxPreps despite a losing record.

“Madison is still Madison,” Thomas said. “They won the state title a year ago as a 3 seed, I believe. The record doesn’t mean much because they still have same speed and athletes they’ve always had on the field and we have a tough task ahead of us and have to play well. They are the defending champs and people know the road in 1A (now 1R) has to go through them so we just get the opportunity early.”

Madison County advanced with a 36-0 win at home against Fort White. The winner will face either No. 2 Hilliard or No. 3 Lafayette (Mayo).

P.K. Yonge, like Madison County, played a tough schedule and received a bid despite their overall record.

The Blue Wave (3-7) earned the No. 3 seed in 1S-Region 2 and will travel to Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy.

“We have a really mature group of young men at PK.,” said Blue Wave head coach Kevin Doelling. “Kids from all walks of life who come to school and learn how to play for each other every day. Even more importantly, last year’s group of seniors were a really good example of ‘staying the course’.”

P.K. Yonge, which lost at Trinity Catholic (Ocala) in the second round of last year’s Class 3A playoffs, also won three games in 2020.

“Their sophomore year they also went 3-7 but we understood at that time how talented they could be when the time came so we continued to remind the boys of that,” Doelling said. “We knew that if we continued to work and get better every week then we’d likely be in the position we’re in now.”

The host Tigers (6-4) are led by dual-threat freshman quarterback Brogan McNab who has combined for over 1,800 yards passing and rushing.

“Holy Trinity looks like they’re a well coached team on film,” Doelling said. “I believe our biggest concern right now is their athleticism at the QB position. He’s a young guy but he has the ability to make plays with his feet which is scary for any defense.”

P.K. Yonge is one of four Alachua County teams remaining, along with Hawthorne, Buchholz and Eastside.

The Bobcats survived a scare with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion with just 47 seconds left to stun No. 6 Pace, 35-34, at Newberry High School.

Buchholz, the No. 3 seed, received more good news when No. 7 Crestview upset No. 2 Niceville on the road, giving the Bobcats (8-2) a game at Citizens Field this Friday against the Bulldogs (7-4).

The game will be broadcast online (audio only) at Mainstreet Daily News beginning at 7:15 p.m. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

After winning its first district title in 10 years, the Eastside football team defeated visiting North Marion, 27-14, in a Class 2S-Region 2 Quarterfinal. 

The No. 5 seed Rams (8-2) will travel to top seed Bradford (Starke), which cruised to a 48-0 win against Crescent City. 

The host Tornadoes (10-1), who posted their eighth shutout of the season last week, shut out Eastside in Gainesville, 28-0, on Sept. 16.

Despite losing University of Cincinnati commit Manny Covey late in the season to a season-ending injury, Braford has another D-I playmaker in Chalil Cummings.

The winner will play either No. 2 Baldwin or No. 3 Baker County (Glen St. Mary) in next week’s regional final.

Other area teams still alive include Suwannee and Columbia. 

The No. 2 seed Bulldogs (9-2) will host No. 3 seed West Florida in 2S-Region 1, while the No. 3 seed Tigers (7-3) will travel to No. 2 Escambia (Pensacola).

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