Stray thoughts on Week 9 of high school football.
* And then there were two weeks left that mattered. Final week of district games on tap Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, followed by the potential Nov. 4 district tiebreaker scenarios.
* One of my favorite weeks of the high school season is the one we're going into. I love the grind of the playoffs, but rivalry games with playoff positions at stake is great football.
In terms of the big ones: First Coast/Sandalwood for the 1-8A title; Baker County/Bishop Kenny for some clarity in 3-5A; Fletcher/Oakleaf and Atlantic Coast/Buchholz for a runner-up in 3-7A; Bartram Trail/Nease in 4-6A; Palatka/Ponte Vedra and Ridgeview/Menendez in the tight 4-5A; Fort White/Taylor County in 2-4A; Bradford/Keystone in 4-4A; Providence/Trinity in 1-3A and Harvest/Duval Charter in 2-2A.
The entire playoff picture is at the bottom.
* First Coast has back-to-back brutal weeks to end the regular season, at Sandalwood for the 1-8A title on Nov. 1 and then at Ed White on Nov. 8. Last year's game, when the two were still district opponents, was televised live. Too bad this year's game won't be. It's possibly the Gateway game of the year.
* Everyone at the beginning of the year knew 1-8A would come down to First Coast and Sandalwood. That's a fantastic matchup of area heavyweights. If I had to throw out a pick right now on the game, I'd probably lean slightly to Coast, simply based on who it has played getting here and its tendency of playing so well in big games, and playing in quite a few of them this season.
Looking forward to seeing what Sandalwood QB D.J. Davis does against the Buccaneers defense, although I'd say he's pretty well-prepared having guys like Kain Daub and Boadie Matts and Blake McClain and Chris Jones in his face at practice every day.
* Speaking of the Commanders, is there a more feared offensive team in the area at this point of the season? I don't think so.
Ed White's output in its final seven games - 49, 46. 48, 48, 34, 84, 49. Step away from the offense for a second.
Spread out in those numbers are these: Four, three, two and one. Any guess as to what those are? They are the defensive and special teams touchdowns scored by the Commanders in that seven-game winning streak.
Four kickoff returns for TDs.
Three fumble returns for TDs.
Two interception returns for TDs.
One punt return for a TD.
Sixty points off of those returns. There are teams in the state that haven't scored 60 points all season. The Commanders have that just on returns.
* Best potential opening round playoff game will be Columbia at St. Augustine in Region 1-6A. You could have a pair of 9-1 teams, provided Columbia beats Middleburg and a difficult Suwannee, and the Yellow Jackets handle Matanzas and Palatka. The Tigers have bounced the Yellow Jackets the last two seasons in the playoffs. Awaiting in the second round would be an Ed White if it takes care of things against whatever 4-6 or 5-5 St. Johns County team comes its way. St. Augustine coach Joey Wiles is 5-0 in the playoffs all-time against teams from the Gateway Conference.
* I liked what I saw of Lonnie Marts III at Harvest Community. Been curious to see him in person. My take on Marts after seeing Harvest top Cedar Creek Christian 47-30 on Friday: He can play major college football. While he's done his damage as a running back, I really like Marts on the defensive side of the ball better than out of the backfield. Marts is tall (6-2) so he runs high and then just outruns guys. But defensively, he's all over the field and operates very well in space. He's got an offer from Hawaii now, and interest from a handful of BCS programs. Heck of a nice kid, too.
* Seen a lot of high school football since 1998, but I've never seen four touchdowns in the span of 1 minute, 37 seconds until Friday. Harvest and Cedar Creek swapped four TDs in 97 seconds - 59- and 60-yard throws from Terence Sapp to Jay Irvine for Cedar Creek, a 71-yard kickoff return by Cody Vining and a 48-yard scoring throw from Charlie Martin to Marts.
* I look back on the Bishop Kenny football team a year ago and the biggest difference is the swagger that this team has on defense. Total change of how it was last year when you had no idea what you were going to get week to week.
Take away a Week 1 shootout against Bartram Trail and Kenny has been rock solid on the defensive side of the ball. There's not just one guy either. Against Yulee, that production came from guys like DLiners Greg Santos and Patrick DePirro and LB Devan Sef. And when it didn't come from them, it came from someplace else. Kenny coach Mark Thorson said there hasn't been a major shakeup in personnel, just minor adjustments.
"We're hopefully getting better there. We're using some different guys in different roles and they've accepted those roles and allowed us to do a little more."
* I've said it following both times that I've seen Kenny play this year. Its receivers aren't big, flashy five-stars, but I'd take this group over any other in the area. Anthony Farmand is a threat for some serious YAC every time he gets the ball. Chuck Wade has the makings of a Saturday player. Both of those guys are juniors, although there's good chance that Farmand winds up replacing John Wolford at QB next year.
* Ribault QB D.J. Gillins' stat line in a 27-3 win over Paxon: 23 for 32 passing, 402 yards, 3 TDs. One catch, 4 yards, TD. Five rushes, 58 yards. He has lifted the Trojans from a so-so program into one that is going to potentially cause some trouble for a team in the playoffs.
Let's assume that Week 10 in District 3-5A plays out as the oddsmaker, myself, thinks it will. Bishop Kenny over Baker County, and Ribault over Wolfson next week.
* It doesn't get much better on the defensive side of the ball than Fletcher showed in the second half of its 31-24 win over Buchholz on Thursday. Two turnovers that it forced went for 6, a Chris Washington 15-yard fumble return in the third quarter, followed by a R.J. Raymond going 84 yards with a pick in the fourth for a 24-17 lead.
The Senators have struggled on the offensive side of the ball this season. They've shown flashes throughout the year, like QB Luke Medlock's 97-yard TD to Kalif Jackson on Thursday night, but largely, they've been whacked by the inconsistency bug and really hurt by injuries.
* Clay's 42-31 win at Palatka was as clutch of an effort by coach Josh Hoekstra's group all year. Season essentially on the line and the Blue Devils respond with three backs - Bilal Ally (129), Shannon Asbell (125) and JT Turner (114) - going over 100 yards. That's old-school Clay football. If things fall the way they should, we're going to see a district tiebreaker on Nov. 4 between Clay, Palatka and Ridgeview.
District 1-8A: First Coast and Sandalwood. Winner of Nov. 1 game is district champ; loser is runner-up.
District 3-7A: Fleming Island has clinched district title.
1) Fletcher goes in as runner-up with a win over Oakleaf.
2) Oakleaf can force a tiebreaker scenario with a win over Fletcher AND an Atlantic Coast win over Buchholz. Atlantic Coast, Fletcher and Oakleaf would then play a district tiebreaker on Nov. 4.
3) Oakleaf goes in as runner-up with a win over Fletcher AND an Atlantic Coast loss to Buchholz.
District 3-6A: Ed White has clinched district title.
1) Winner of Columbia-Middleburg game on Nov. 1 clinches runner-up spot.
District 4-6A: St. Augustine has clinched district title regardless of its result against Matanzas on Nov. 1.
1) Bartram Trail goes in as runner-up with a win over Nease on Nov. 1
2) Nease can force a tiebreaker with a win over Bartram. Bartram, Creekside and Nease would then play a district tiebreaker on Nov. 4.
District 3-5A: Baker County, Bishop Kenny and Ribault are all still mathematically alive for playoff spots.
1) Bishop Kenny can win district title with a win over Baker County.
2) A Kenny win over Baker AND a Ribault win over Wolfson would send Ribault in as district runner-up.
3) A Baker County win over Kenny AND a Ribault win over Wolfson would mean a district tiebreaker between Baker, Kenny and Ribault on Nov. 4.
4) A Baker loss AND a Ribault loss would send Ribault in as district runner-up.
District 4-5A: No playoff spots have been clinched, as four teams (Clay, Menendez, Palatka and Ridgeview) are all still alive.
1) Clay can win district title with Ridgeview loss to Menendez.
2) Ridgeview can win district title with a win over Menendez AND a Palatka loss to Ponte Vedra. In that scenario, Clay would be district runner-up.
3) A Palatka win over Ponte Vedra AND a Ridgeview win over Menendez means Clay, Palatka and Ridgeview would play a district tiebreaker on Nov. 4 to determine the district winner and runner-up.
4) A Menendez win over Ridgeview and a Palatka win over Ponte Vedra would give Clay the district title and give Palatka the district runner-up.
District 2-4A: Fort White and Taylor County have clinched playoff spots.
District 3-4A: Raines has clinched district title; winner of Bolles-West Nassau game on Nov. 1 will clinch runner-up spot.
District 4-4A: Bradford and Keystone Heights have clinched playoff spots. Their game on Nov. 1 will determine winner and runner-up.
District 1-3A: Providence and Trinity Christian have clinched playoff spots. Winner of Nov. 1 game is district champ; loser is runner-up.
District 2-2A: No playoff spots have been clinched.
1) University Christian will win the district title with a win over Cedar Creek Christian.
2) Harvest Community will be the district runner-up with a win over Duval Charter.
3) A UC loss AND a Harvest win would force a tiebreaker on Nov. 4 between those teams and Cedar Cree Christian.
4) A Duval Charter win and a Cedar Creek win would put UC in as the runner-up and Cedar Creek in as the district champion.
5) A UC win and a Duval Charter win would force a tiebreaker on Nov. 4 between Cedar Creek, Duval and Harvest.
District 6-1A: No area teams remain. Hilliard was eliminated with its loss to Bell.
District 7-1A: No teams have clinched playoff spots.
1) Dixie County will win district with victory over Chiefland.
2) A Union County win over Williston AND Dixie County win over Chiefland will clinch runner-up spot for Union.
3) A Chiefland win over Dixie AND a Union win over Williston would force tiebreaker between Chiefland, Dixie and Union on Nov. 4.
4) A Chiefland win AND a Union loss would give Chiefland district title and Dixie County runner-up spot.