The high school football season officially gets underway today with the start of fall practice (Non-contact).
Last year was a big year for Alachua County as Hawthorne won its first football state title in program history, Buchholz advanced to its second straight state semifinal, Eastside won its first district title in 10 years, and Oak Hall extended its playoff streak to eight straight seasons.
We’re less than a month away from kickoff. Here’s a weekly breakdown of the top Alachua County football games this fall.
Friday, Aug. 25 – Buchholz at Columbia (Lake City)
Last meeting: Buchholz 31, Columbia 14 (Aug. 25, 2022)
This battle of the ‘Cats and Tigers features two teams who made a run all the way to the state semifinals last year, with Buchholz falling one game short at Venice in Class 4S and Columbia losing at eventual 3S state champion Lake Wales.
In 2022, in a game that many thought might not be played due to weather, Buchholz jumped out to a 10-0 lead and won for just the second time in the last 11 meetings.
It will once again feature some of the top athletes in the area.
Last year it featured a quarterback battle between Tyler Jefferson (Central Michigan University) of Columbia and Creed Whittemore (Mississippi State of Buchholz). Another key matchup was Columbia safety/linebacker Jaden Robinson (Florida) vs. Bobcats’ wide receiver Jaren Hamilton, who had an offer from Alabama. Hamilton transferred in from P.K. Yonge (Gainesville).
The names change but the game is the same, with athletes all over the field. Buchholz has a pair of University of Florida commits on defense (Kendall Jackson and transfer Myles Graham), while Columbia has wide receiver Camdon Frier, an FSU commit, on offense.
Plus, both teams have new head coaches as Chuck Bell takes over Mark Whittemore, who retired at the end of last season, and Brian Allen is back on the sidelines for the Tigers.
Friday, Sept. 1 – Hawthorne at Newberry, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Hawthorne 48, Newberry 7 (Sept. 17, 2021)
This game features the defending 1R state champions at sleeper Newberry, which showed its offensive capability in the spring game at GHS in May. This is a good test early in the season for both teams, who should be 1-0 entering the game.
"We have Hawthorne, Chiefland, and Williston on the schedule," said Newberry coach Ed Johnson. "We look forward to the challenge of playing our rival Hawthorne, and their program has had plenty of success recently."
With Hawthorne quarterback C.J. Ingram returning, the Hornets will be a threat in Class 1R again despite the loss of several key starters. But don’t count out the defending state champions, who reloaded with some key transfers and also returns senior cornerback Jordin Fluellen (Penn State offer, Troy, Dartmouth).
The 1-2 punch of running back Kaleb Woods and quarterback Keil McGriff will be fun to watch this season for the Panthers.
Friday, Sept. 8 - Eastside at Buchholz, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Buchholz 42, Eastside 7 (Sept. 10, 2021)
Mother Nature prevented this game from being completed but the Rams played the Bobcats tough and only trailed 7-0 late in the first quarter before the game was finally called a no-contest due to weather.
The Bobcats have dominated this series, winning nine in a row. The last Eastside win was 13-10 on Aug. 31, 2012.
Both teams entered the game 2-0 last year so it’s a good early season test for both teams in this city showdown from Citizens Field.
Friday, Sept. 15 - Creekside (St. Johns) at Buchholz, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Buchholz 48, Creekside 41 (Sept. 16, 2022)
This game was a shootout on the road in 2022, as the Bobcats held off a furious rally after building a 34-14 lead at the half. This time, Buchholz gets Creekside at home.
The Bobcats have won three in a row in the series against the Knights, who advanced to the second round of the Class 4S state playoffs last year.
This is a Class 4S-District 3 game in a district that includes Bartram Trail (St. Johns), Oakleaf (Orange Park) and Fleming Island (Orange Park). The stakes are high, but the margin for error is slim.
Friday, Sept. 22 - Vanguard (Ocala) at Buchholz, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Buchholz 24, Vanguard 21 (Sept. 23, 2022)
Santa Fe (Alachua) at GHS is a close second based on the fact that the Hurricanes came close to winning its only game of the season in Alachua last year, while the Raiders picked up their only win in 2022 with a 14-7 win.
However, the game between the Knights, who advanced to the second round of the 3S state playoffs, and the Bobcats came down to the final seconds last year in Ocala. Senior kicker Reed Rousseau drilled a 37-yard field goal with 14 seconds to play to break the tie.
Buchholz had lost four in a row and seven of the last eight in the series heading into last year’s game.
Thursday, Sept. 28 - North Marion (Citra) at Eastside, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Eastside 27, North Marion 14 (Nov. 11, 2022)
This game could be for the district title again. Last year the Rams defeated the Colts twice, including a 14-6 win in the regular season which led to their first district title in 10 years, and in the first round of the 2S state playoffs.
The winner of the game will have the upper hand in Class 2S-District 7, which is only a three-team district that includes Santa Fe.
Thursday, Oct. 5 - Buchholz at GHS, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Buchholz 49, Gainesville 0 (Oct. 6, 2022)
The Bobcats have won four in a row in the series and have only allowed 23 total points during their current winning streak against the Hurricanes.
It’s always a big rivalry game at Citizens Field. Can the Hurricanes and new coach Ian Scott close the gap in the series or will the Bobcats defeat their city rival for the fifth straight time?
Friday, Oct. 13 – Union County (Lake Butler) at Hawthorne, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Hawthorne 28, Union County 21 (Oct. 14, 2022)
This might have been the Game of the Year in 2022, an instant classic, with the visiting Hornets winning on a touchdown pass with five seconds to play.
It was the closest that Hawthorne would come to losing all season, rallying from a 21-0 deficit at the half to beat the Tigers late, 28-21, on the road.
The Hornets have won four in a row in the series.
Friday, Oct. 20 - Hawthorne at North Marion (Citra), 7 p.m.
Last meeting: Hawthorne 13, North Marion 0 (Oct. 21, 2022)
This game just got even bigger with the addition of a couple of key transfers from North Marion to Hawthorne. The Hornets handed the Colts, who made the Class 2S state playoffs, their only shutout loss of the season last year in a 13-0 defensive slugfest.
Friday, Oct. 27 - Buchholz at Fleming Island (Orange Park), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Buchholz 49, Fleming Island 35 (Oct. 27, 2022)
This was another high-scoring affair last season at Citizens Field on Senior Night, but this time the Bobcats are on the road. Golden Eagles quarterback Cibastian Broughton combined for 344 yards on the ground and through the air in last year’s game. He’s back for his junior year.
This game could be for the district title or it might be for a postseason bid. Either way, it’s a big game at the end of the year for the Buchholz.
Friday, Nov. 3 - GHS at Eastside, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Eastside 36, GHS 0 (Nov. 4, 2022)
Gainesville had dominated this series heading into last season. However, under first-year head coach Harold “Gator” Hoskins, the Rams dominated the rival Hurricanes, 36-0. It ended a 14-game losing streak in the series.
The Rams are looking to make it two in a row in the series for the first time in 15 years.