The Gainesville football team is making its first playoff appearance in three years tonight at Citizen’s Field.
The Hurricanes (8-2) doubled their win total of the previous two seasons combined (4-12), including a 2-4 record in Dock Pollard’s first season as coach in a COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.
Pollard said there have been several reasons why the ‘Canes have righted the ship, which included winning the district championship two weeks ago with a 17-14 win at St. Augustine.
“The keys to our turnaround season are organizational culture, consisting of greater relationships between player and coach, coach to coach, and coach to parents,” Pollard said. “Having a full off-season, which gave us adequate time to lay out the expectations and how we would accomplish our goals, and team buy-in.”
GHS, which earned the No. 3 seed in 6A-Region 1, played a difficult schedule that included losses to No 1 seeds Vanguard (Ocala) in 6A-Region 2 and Buchholz (Gainesville) in 7A-Region 1.
“I am ecstatic,” Pollard exclaimed. “No one expected us to win games, let alone have a home playoff game as the No. 3 seed. We have met and surpassed the expectations that were placed on us. I am extremely proud of these young men.”
The Hurricanes, winners of four in a row, will host the No. 6 seed Lincoln (Tallahassee) Trojans, which is also 8-2 and enters the game with a six-game winning streak.
“Lincoln is a storied program,” Pollard noted. “This year’s addition is not very much different than the great teams of their past. They have great athleticism and they play with great passion.”
Senior Perry Fisher is a dual-threat quarterback for the Trojans. He has thrown for over 1,300 yards with 14 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. He also leads the team with 496 yards rushing.
“If we are to win Friday night, we must play great defense against their QB and the QB run game,” Pollard said. “We will have to consistently move the ball on offense and not turn it over. Lastly, we will have to be sound in the kicking game, allow no momentum-changing plays when they’re returning and not allow them to block any of our kicks.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. You can listen to the game on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and online at IamCountryRadio.com beginning at 7 p.m.
In Class 6A-Region 2, Columbia (Lake City) will host Riverside (Jacksonville), formerly Robert E. Lee, in a rematch of the Tigers’ 28-26 come-from-behind district road win on Oct. 8.
That victory helped propel the Tigers (6-4) to the 6A-District 3 title and a first-round home playoff game under first-year coach Demetric Jackson.
“It was huge for our staff to win a district title in our first year,” Jackson said. “It laid the foundation of what we want to accomplish at Columbia and to build off that. Columbia has some rich tradition of winning and we wanted to come in the first year and set the tone of what we set out to do as a staff and team.”
Jackson said his team prepared each week and understood the importance of district games and then gave maximum effort in the first meeting against the Generals (9-1).
“The players made plays in all three phases of the game,” he said. “We created turnovers and capitalized off our opponents’ mistakes. In the biggest match of the season, we made fewer mistakes and continued to play to the very end of the game, and it allowed us to take the driver seat headed into the last district game against Orange Park where we secured the district title.”
The visiting Generals have thrown for over 1,600 yards and have rushed for over 1,900 yards. Senior Masiah Wells leads the defense (35 total sacks) with eight sacks.
“Riverside is a very tough opponent that is balanced on offense and very aggressive and physical on defense,” Jackson said. “We must play each play and be prepared for a hard-fought battle. We must play disciplined football, win the turnover battle, and make them earn every yard. We can’t give up the big play and offensively take what they give us. Win field position is also a key factor in big games as well.”
Keystone Heights (9-1) will be at home in Class 4A. The Indians, the No. 3 seed in Region 2, hosts No. 6 seed Umatilla.
In Class 3A, P.K. Yonge is the No. 4 seed in Region 1 and will host No. 5 seed Crescent City in a battle of 7-3 teams.
The Blue Wave, which handed Keystone Heights its first loss of the season last Friday, finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak, following a three-game losing streak that dropped the Blue Wave to 1-3 heading into the month of October.
“The win streak was due to the persistence and desire of our boys every Monday morning to get better,” said first-year head coach Kevin Doelling. “Losing three in a row can take a toll and the fact that it didn’t deter them from having a winning mentality is what sets this group apart.”
The visiting Raiders are led by senior Naykeem Scott who has accounted for 32 touchdowns. He has thrown for 1,063 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 1,066 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“Crescent City is athletic which is always scary,” Doelling said. “When the play breaks down, their QB does a great job of improvising and making plays with his feet as well as his arm and that’s something that’s hard to game plan for.”
During the current win streak, the Blue Wave are allowing less than 16 points per game and Doelling said his team is prepared for the challenges they will face against Scott.
“I’m proud of the work our defense has put in this week to prepare for his abilities,” “Coach Nate Courtney has done a great job this season of preparing our guys for the looks they’ll get that week and I’m confident we can execute.”
P.K. Yonge has its own dual-threat signal caller in senior Aaron Small Jr. Small has thrown for 1,467 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 645 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Union County hosts Trenton and Bradford (Starke) hosts Newberry in the Class 1A playoffs.
Top seeds Hawthorne and Chiefland received a bye, but the Hornets and Indians will host regional semifinal games next week.
Football – Regional Quarterfinals (Friday, Nov. 12)
6A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
No. 5 Riverside (Jacksonville) (9-1) at No. 4 Columbia (Lake City) (6-4), 7:30 p.m.
No. 6 Lincoln (Tallahassee) (8-2) at No. 3 Gainesville (8-2), 7:30 p.m.
4A-Region 2 Quarterfinals
No. 6 Umatilla (6-4) at No. 3 Keystone Heights (9-1), 7:30 p.m.
3A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
No. 5 Crescent City (7-3) at No. 4 P.K Yonge (Gainesville) (7-3), 7:30 p.m.
1A-Region 3 Quarterfinals
No. 1 Chiefland (9-1) – Bye
No. 5 Fort White (5-4) at No. 4 Lafayette (Mayo) (7-3), 7:30 p.m.
No. 6 Trenton (4-5) at No. 3 Union County (Lake Butler) (10-0), 7:30 p.m.
1A-Region 4 Quarterfinals
No. 1 Hawthorne (7-0) – Bye
No. 6 Newberry (5-5) at No. 3 Bradford (Starke) (5-5), 7 p.m.