On Friday night, seven area teams attempt to continue on in the FHSAA football playoffs. Several of them have a history, whether that’s this season or meeting nearly ever year in the playoffs.
Here’s a look at what’s in store. All game times are 7:30 p.m.
Rickards (8-2) at Wakulla (10-1)
On Oct. 16, the Raiders traveled to play the War Eagles and were leading 13-6 at halftime.
But Wakulla quarterback Feleipe Franks threw two second-half touchdown passes— a six-yard score to running back Cephus Greene at the end of the third quarter and the all-important game-winning score, a 50-yard post to Kelton Donaldson late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-14 play.
Rickards drove to Wakulla’s 22 with 40 seconds left, but Wakulla’s defense rose to the occasion to get the team a District 2-5A title.
What would be better then than playing a Region 1-5A semifinal under similar pressure in what is essentially a do-or-die overtime game one month later.
Franks best asset this year has been managing his offense, whether that’s in veer option formation under center or in shotgun with a five-wide set. He has thrown 26 touchdowns versus just two interceptions.
It should be noted that Franks’ strong leg changes field position on kickoffs and punts, in addition to the field goals and extra points he consistently makes. That area is of advantage is of particular concern for Rickards, which has squandered points in virtually every game this season as a result of missed or blocked kicks, or created short fields for opponents off punts from deep within their own territory.
The difference for Wakulla this time is in preparation. This is not the same Rickards’ offense from a month ago.
Rickards junior D.J. Phillips took every snap a month ago, completing 18 of 23 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. But the Raiders have figured out a two-quarterback rotation with Phillips and sophomore Marcus Riley. Both bring different skill sets, and Riley’s ability to run off broken plays is one thing the War Eagles have yet to see.
Riley threw and ran for scores last week, then caught the game-winning 51-yard touchdown from Phillips with only minutes remaining against West Florida. The offense has put up 49, 32, and 42 points since getting shutout in the second half against Wakulla.
Prediction: Rickards 33, Wakulla 31
University Christian (8-3) at North Florida Christian (7-3)
The Eagles and Christians have met 11 times over the past 10 years, including two seasons where they faced each other in the regular season and postseason.
For the last four years, the yearly battle has comes three times in the regional final and once in a first-round game. On Friday night, that playoff rivalry will resume as NFC welcomes in an all-too-familiar foe. The Eagles have won 10 of the last 11 games, the only loss coming in 2012 when University went on to win the 2A state title.
“I’m sure they’re like us, looking forward to this game and knowing it’s in front of you each year,” Eagles coach Robert Craft said. “It’s a great rivalry and goes back aways. It’s great for our classification in football.”
A year ago, NFC rode the legs of Korey Charles (125 yards, TD) to a 44-27 victory in a game that was even more of a blowout until University Christian scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in garbage time.
The year before that, it took a 38-yard touchdown grab from current Georgia Tech freshman Christian Philpott off a throw from backup quarterback Joey Giaritelli with just 59 seconds to get NFC a win.
Current FSU sophomore Jonathan Vickers rushed for 181 yards in that game and sealed the 28-14 win with a 55-yard interception return in the final seconds.
“It’s always even and it’ll be no different this year,” Craft said. “We expect it to be very hard-fought. It’s a rare playoff game where two teams do know a lot about each other.”
Charles should cross the 1,000-yard barrier during the game, but a win is anything but a certainty. And you can’t expect anything less from a rivalry that extends back into the early 1990s, when current Leon coach Tim Cokely left University Christian as an assistant coach to become the head coach at NFC.
“Whoever makes the most amount of errors will probably be the one that winds up on the wrong side Friday night,” Craft said. “Ball security and being able to tackle well are key. They have running backs that are elusive. We have to bring those guys down often.”
Prediction: NFC 27, University Christian 21
Columbia (10-1) vs. Lincoln (5-6) at Gene Cox Stadium
The Trojans have won four of their last five games— and gone 2-0 in a district tiebreaker— and their only loss was to 3A powerhouse Trinity Christian (11-0).
That means you can throw out the result of a 23-14 win by the Tigers at Cox Stadium in the third game of the regular season, and you can keep the game footage.
Lincoln is playing its best football of the season and if it can correct the mistakes that kept it from winning on Sept. 3— namely two turnovers, allowing big plays, and the lack of a rushing game— then this game should come down to the wire.
The Trojans’ biggest question mark comes down to the health of running back Ricky Henrilus, who only carried one time last week. If he goes and can provide 20 carries, then Lincoln has the counterpunch to a passing attack that’s been crisp over the final weeks of the year.
The difference maker could very well by the strong leg of punter and kicker Kalil Clark.
Prediction: Lincoln 31, Columbia 28
Blountstown (9-2) at Port St. Joe (9-1)
The Tigers are 10-3 against the Sharks over the last 10 years, but it just so happens two of those losses were this year and last. Last year, Port St. Joe went on to win the 2014 1A state title, but only did after first slipping by Blountstown, 6-0, thanks to a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Blountstown has improved from 8-4 a year ago— they were 13-1 in losing in the 2013 state title game— and had few trip-ups this season. One was at Port St. Joe in a 13-9 loss, in which the Sharks scored the game-winning touchdown with three minutes to go on a 71-yard touchdown run.
Both teams knew after that game that the likelihood was a do-over for the right to be in the state semifinals. And once again, it could come down to a fourth-quarter play as the decider.
Prediction: Blountstown 21, Port St. Joe 10
Fort White (9-2) at Madison County (8-3) … Prediction: Cowboys win 35-21
Trinity Christian (11-0) at Taylor County (6-5) … Prediction: Bulldogs lose 42-14