Last Friday, the P.K. Yonge football team got its first postseason win under first-year head coach Kevin Doelling and they did it in big fashion.
The Blue Wave dominated visiting Crescent City, 56-7, in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
It was a season-high in points for the Blue Wave (8-3), who played a tough schedule early in the season and got off to a slow start.
Following a three-game losing streak in September, No. 4 seed P.K. Yonge has won seven in a row heading into Friday’s 3A-Region 1 semifinal at top seed Trinity Catholic (Ocala).
They also handed 4A playoff team Keystone Heights its only loss in the regular season finale two weeks ago.
“It’s interesting to look back and say we were 1-3,” Doelling explained. “At that time in our season, we were still in the process of not only installing a new system, but we played, in my opinion, the three toughest teams on our schedule and we just so happened to lose a couple of games.”
All three teams are in the playoffs – Class 1A unbeatens Hawthorne and Union County, and 4A Baldwin. They have a combined record of 25-3.
“We never got discouraged, there were no big blow ups or sit-down meetings about what the heck is going wrong,” Doelling said. “We just knew that we had to continue to get better and learn from our film and that’s exactly what we did.”
Doelling said every week his team talks about going 1-0 that week.
“Anything that had happened prior to that was irrelevant,” he said. “To steal a quote from the one and only Ted Lasso, we had to ‘Be more like a goldfish’ in that we had to have a short memory.”
The Blue Wave have gotten better offensively and defensively since the three-game skid.
During their current seven-game winning streak, P.K. Yonge is averaging 38 points per game.
Senior quarterback AJ Small, Jr., a dual threat, has thrown for over 1,600 yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also leads the team with 691 yards rushing, ahead of KJ Wooden, who has rushed for 610 yards in two less outings.
Junior Jaren Hamilton has had a big year receiving, hauling in a team-leading 30 catches for 671 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hamilton leads the team with 956 all-purpose yards.
Defensively, the Blue Wave are only giving up 14.6 points per game over the last seven games, cutting the difference in half when they allowed 28.3 points per game during the three-game losing streak.
Senior Courtney Brown II leads the way with 80 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss.
In order to advance to the regional final, the Blue Wave will have to beat a Celtics (6-2) team that has won six in a row since an 0-2 start.
They have five players who are 6-foot-6 or taller, including 6-foot-6, 330-pound star lineman Tommy Kinsler, who has received offers from Florida, Florida State, and Miami, among others.
“They’re a talented football team,” Doelling said. “It’s been quite a few weeks since we’ve seen size like they have so that’s something we’ll have to be ready for. I’m excited for the opportunity to show that it’s not always about the size of the dog in the fight.”
Trinity Catholic has its own dual-threat QB in Cole Gonzales. The senior averages 10.5 yards per pass and 7.1 yards per rush.
Elijah Russell, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound defensive end, leads the team with 8.5 sacks.
“We’ve been the smaller school and the smaller team for a long time now and that hasn’t held us back yet,” Doelling said. “I’m hopeful we can continue to compete and make it difficult on their bigs.”
The Celtics and the Blue Wave have one common opponent. Trinity Catholic defeated Wildwood, 23-8 at home on Oct. 1, while P.K. Yonge defeated the Wildcats, 34-26, at home two weeks later.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. You can listen to the game on 106.9 FM in Gainesville and online at IamCountryRadio.com beginning at 7 p.m.