Last year the Williston football team had a season to remember.
Although it ended abruptly in the postseason with a 46-35 loss at Wildwood in the Class 1R Regional Quarterfinals, the Red Devils accomplished a lot in their first year under new head coach Robby Pruitt.
After a 1-8 season in 2021 prior to his arrival, Pruitt and the Red Devils went 10-0 during the regular season. They proved they were the best team in the Tri-County area with a 57-28 win at Chiefland in early November.
Despite the loss, the Indians finished 7-3 and knocked off Newberry in the opening round of the 1R playoffs before being eliminated at Pahokee, 50-28.
Bell also had one of its best seasons in over a decade and narrowly missed the 1R playoffs with a 5-5 record.
We’re less than three weeks away from the first regular season high school football game. Here is a look at my top game each week in the Tri-County area (Levy, Gilchrist, and Dixie counties) during the upcoming season.
Friday, Aug. 25 - Chiefland at Williston, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Williston 57, Chiefland 28 (Nov. 4, 2022)
This game was played at the end of last season. It’s a great way to start the 2023 season for both teams to find out where they are early in the season. Kyree Edwards rushed for 253 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s 57-28 win. However, Edwards graduated this past spring.
This has been a back-and-forth rivalry and the series is tied 3-3 in the last six games.
“We talk about this game year around because of how much it means to our team and our community,” said Pruitt, who enters his second season as head coach. “Chiefland has some very good young talent and it promises to be a very physical game.”
It’s about bragging rights and more.
“The Levy Cup is something that always gets our kids and communities fired up,” said Chiefland coach James Corbin, who also enters his second season. “This year is no different, and to have Williston for week one means we're going to open up the year with a great ball game versus a great team.”
Friday, Sept. 1 - Chiefland at Wildwood, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Chiefland 28, Wildwood 20 (Oct. 7, 2022)
A small school showdown featuring a matchup of 2022 playoff teams. Regulation wasn’t enough last year to decide this one.
“Last year’s OT win was a great win for our program,” Corbin said. “Wildwood is a fantastic program and although both teams graduated a lot of significant players, we expect another tough fought game.”
Friday, Sept. 8 - St. Francis Catholic Academy at Trenton, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Trenton 48, St. Francis Catholic 14 (Nov. 8, 2013)
Both teams are trying to rebuild. The visiting Wolves won just one game in 2022, while the Tigers were winless last season.
"It’s our home opener so we’re excited to get back that week and have everybody in the home stands," Trenton coach Cameron Porch said. "A couple of rivals week 1 and 2, if we get off to a hot start, hopefully we can keep the momentum into week 3. Looking forward to hosting the Wolves."
Friday, Sept. 15 - Chiefland at Lafayette (Mayo), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Chiefland 28, Lafayette 27 (Nov. 19, 2021)
The Hornets advanced to the Class 1R-Region 3 Final last year before losing at Union County (Lake Butler) to finish 10-3. Tywan K Williamson threw for 1,475 yards and 14 touchdowns and ran for 519 yards and seven scores last year as a freshman. It will be a good test on the road for the Indians.
“The last time we saw Mayo was during the second round of the playoffs where we got another OT win,” Corbin said. “We know they're going to be looking for their revenge and this will be another good ball game.”
Friday, Sept. 22 - Chiefland at Newberry, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Chiefland 49, Newberry 7 (Nov. 11, 2022)
This is a rematch of last year’s Class 1R-Region 4 Quarterfinal. The Panthers won nine out of 10 against the Indians from 2005-2016. However, Chiefland has won two in a row in the series, including a 20-19 win at Newberry two years ago.
“Newberry was a young and talented team last year,” Corbin said. “This year they made us their homecoming. That was not well received by our players.”
Friday, Sept. 29 - Seven Rivers Christian (Lecanto) at Bell, 7 p.m.
Last meeting: Bell 40, Seven Rivers Christian 27 (Oct. 3, 2022)
The Warriors lost quarterback Nehemiah Vann (2,452 passing/rushing yards last year) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Brent Summers) from a 7-3 team last season. However, SRC has a big and athletic offensive line.
“Coach Vann and 7 Rivers are always a well-coached team,” said Bell coach Joey Whittington. “They are well versed in throwing the ball all over the field and play tough, smart football. It's going to be a good matchup for us this year.”
Friday, Oct. 6 - Williston at Newberry, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Williston 42, Newberry 19 (October 3, 2022)
Both teams were in the Class 1R state playoffs last year. However, the visiting Red Devils dominated the Panthers during the regular season.
“Newberry has as much talent as anyone in 1R,” Pruitt said. “This will be one of the most competitive games in the area this season.”
Friday, Oct. 13 - Dixie County (Cross City) at Fort White, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Fort White 21, Dixie County 13 (Oct. 14, 2022)
The Bears have lost three in a row and five of the last six against the Indians but were a score and 2-point conversion away from forcing overtime last year.
Dixie County only won two games last season and the game against Fort White was their closest margin of defeat in their final four games.
Demetric Jackson is back on the sidelines for the Indians this season.
Friday, Oct. 20 - Williston at Hudson, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Hudson 20, Williston 12 (Nov. 18, 2005)
Both teams were in the postseason last year. The Red Devils finished 10-0 in the regular season before falling in the first round of the Class 1R playoffs to Wildwood. The Cobras finished 9-3 with a loss at South Sumter (Bushnell) in the second round of the Class 2S state playoffs.
“Hudson is coming off of a very successful season and they return some elite talent, so it will be a good measuring stick for our team,” Pruitt said.
Friday, Oct. 27 - Madison County at Chiefland, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Madison County 37, Chiefland 0 (Dec. 3, 2021)
The Cowboys defeated the Indians in the Class 1A state semifinals en route to their fourth state title in five years. Madison County and Chiefland both won first-round games in the Class 1R state playoffs last year, making this a good test before the postseason starts.
“The team that knocked us out in the final four in '21 comes back to Chiefland,” Corbin said. “This is a game I know a lot of our kids have circled on the schedule right now.”
Friday, Nov. 3 - Chiefland at Frostproof, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting
Another matchup of state playoff teams from 2022 and a good test ahead of another state playoff appearance for both teams. Chiefland was a No. 3 seed in last year’s 1R-Region 4 playoffs and lost to No. 2 seed Pahokee in the regional semifinals. Frostproof went 10-3 and advanced to the Class 2S-Region 4 Final.
“Under new leadership, we expect Frostproof to be another smash-mouth football team,” Corbin said. “They're a little bigger than us in terms of population but that style of play is something we really enjoy.”