Five teams alive in state football hunt
Published: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 9:03 a.m.
In his 15th year as Dixie County football coach, Brent Wilkerson knows the Bears' history in regional finals. Of the four consecutive losses, two were by the team coming to Cross City tonight — Union County.
All start at 7:30
Region 1: St. Johns Bartram Trail (6-5) at No. 6 Columbia (10-1)
Region 2: Gainesville (9-2) at Spring Hill Springstead (10-1)
Region 3: No. 4 Trenton (9-1) at Jasper Hamilton County (6-5)
Region 4: No. 3 Union County (10-1) at No. 2 Dixie County (9-0)
This is more than just No. 2 Dixie County (9-0) vs. No. 3 Union County (10-1) in the Class 1A, Region 4 final. For the Bears, it is an opportunity to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 1971.
For the visiting Tigers, it is an opportunity to avenge a regular-season loss to the Bears (30-12) that cost them a third straight District 7 title. Like Newberry did to Union County a year ago in Lake Butler, the Tigers are looking to win another postseason game in Cross City, like they did in 2003.
That's just one of the intriguing games on Friday as the state football playoffs enter week two with smaller schools (1A-4A) playing regional finals and bigger schools (5A-8A) playing regional semifinals throughout the state.
In Region 2-6A, defending state finalist Gainesville (9-2), which survived a first-round scare last week at Citizens Field from Land O'Lakes Sunlake, travels to Spring Hill in Hernando County to take on Springstead (10-1). Also in 6A, in Region 1, No. 6 Columbia (10-1) plays host to St. Johns Bartram Trail (6-5), which upset No. 9 Jacksonville Ed White last week, the only team that has beaten the Tigers this season.
Also in 1A, in the Region 3 final, defending state finalist Trenton (9-1), winners of eight straight, travels to Jasper to face District 5 champion Hamilton County (5-5), which eliminated Bell from its first playoff appearance.
All games kick off tonight at 7:30.
“It is going to be a tough game, it is going to be a war,” Wilkerson said. “We have been in big games here before. I have a good football team. No one wants to play someone twice, but if we play with the same intensity we have all season, I feel like we will be OK.”
In its regular season meeting on Oct. 4 in Cross City, Dixie County dominated, leading 30-0 at one point before Union County scored twice in the fourth quarter. The Tigers haven't lost since, winning their last five games by an average of 28 points per contest.
“I like our chances, we get another opportunity,” said Union County coach Ronny Pruitt, whose team last reached the state semifinals in 2011. “This group of seniors have never lost a regular-season game. Usually when we lose the season is over, but we were able to earn this opportunity to redeem ourselves.”
That win by Dixie snapped a six-game losing streak to the Tigers, handing them their first regular-season loss since 2010.
“We are pretty healthy, we don't have any excuses,” Wilkerson said. “It was tough last week keeping their focus on Wildwood. They are excited and the community is excited. Football is pretty big here, and everyone is looking forward to it.”
Not letting the Bears seize control and build a lead will be a key for Union County, Pruitt says.
“It is very important that we not get behind,” he said. “For us to be in the game in the third quarter. The clock is going to only allow you so many opportunities.”
For GHS coach Mark Latsko, a former assistant at Hernando, he is familiar with Springstead and said this is the best Eagles team he has seen.
“We are going to try to score early and often, shut them out, that is the game plan every week,” Latsko said. “These kids at Gainesville High have been used to winning football games. Last week (17-14 win) was definitely an exciting finish. I credit the team for not giving up and coming out with a W.”
Columbia coach Brian Allen has gone through some injuries throughout the season, but with the return of FSU commit Trey Marshall at safety, Lonnie Underwood at running back and Jay Thomas at quarterback, the Tigers seem prime for serious playoff run. They face an outstanding Bartram Trail quarterback in dual-threat PJ Blazejowski, who passed for 295 yards and three TDs in a 50-20 rout at No. 9 Ed White. He also ran for 97 yards and a score, as the Bears totaled 552 yards of offense.
“He is a good football player, a tough competitor,” Allen said. “It is going to be a tough game to contain him. I knew they were a good team and thought they would have a chance to expose Ed White.
“Last week Lonnie had a 73-yard touchdown run and that was the first time since the Ed White game that I seen him in the open field. He is really coming on, which is a good sign for us.”
Trenton (9-1) is looking to return to the 1A state final, and a victory at Hamilton County would give the Tigers their first state semifinal at home.
“You don't get to this point without being pretty good,” Tigers coach Andrew Thomas said of the Trojans. “They run around well on both sides of the ball. We have to be physical. A lot of teams take us for granted in that. We want to take it to them.”
Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/sunpreps