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Florida high school football: Top games, moments from regular season’s first half

SportsFlorida high school football: Top games, moments from regular season's first half

Floridspan high school footbspanll fans have had more than their fair share of thrills, lightning delays and tropical weather at the end of the first half of the 2022 regular season. 

Here’s a statewide look at the most thrilling first-half games and moments from each market in the USA Today Florida Network: 

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Big Bend

St. John Paul II rallies over Rickards in fourth quarter 

St. John Paul II junior running back Jadan Walden (7) rushes the ball downfield in a game against Rickards on Aug. 25, 2022, at Gene Cox Stadium. The Panthers won, 35-33.

The Panthers left it late, but found 14 crucial fourth-quarter points to beat Rickards 35-33 in the opening week of the 2022 high school football season. Quarterback Tremaine Hughes Jr. threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns passes, including a 93-yarder. His favorite target was junior Jadan Walden, who caught eight passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. The momentum carried St. John Paul II to a 4-0 start and none of the ensuing victories have been as close as the opener. 


2 nail-biters involving Braden River High

Braden River's Craivontae Koonce (11) runs the ball during the Braden River at Lely high school football game in Naples, Fla., on Oct. 8, 2021.

Braden River High has been involved in two nail-biters against Manatee County foes during the first half of the season. In Week 2 on Sept. 2 at home, the Pirates won an overtime game 27-20 against Palmetto High. Braden River led 20-10 in the fourth quarter only to have the Tigers come back and tie the game with a 34-yard field goal on the final play of regulation. On the first play of OT, Pirates quarterback Nick Trier connected with Craivontae Koonce for a 10-yard touchdown. After a penalty gave Palmetto the ball on the 5-yard line in overtime, the Pirates stopped two running plays for a minus-2 yards and successfully defended two passes for the victory. Two weeks later against Manatee High, Braden River grabbed a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Hurricanes tied the game and then took a 10-7 lead on a field goal in the fourth quarter. The Pirates had two possessions to either tie or take the lead. They punted on the first and were stopped on a sack, caused fumble by Manatee linebacker Ean Johnson-Kelley on their second possession, allowing Manatee High to run out the clock. —

Daytona Beach 

Roland, Mainland get revenge over FPC

Mainland High School football head coach Travis Roland during practice, Tuesday, August, 2, 2022.

Flagler Palm Coast handed Travis Roland his first loss as Mainland head coach last fall, his first game in charge after four years with the Bulldogs. But the Bucs reclaimed control of their backyard in an attritional 22-16 win at Daytona Stadium on a Monday night in mid-September. The result had lingering effects, too. Mainland surged past unbeaten Lake Minneola on short rest four days later, while FPC endured a surprising home loss to University. Let’s also give an honorable mention to Deltona for its 5-0 start; a decade ago, the Wolves went winless. —

Fort Lauderdale

Chaminade-Madonna’s win over American Heritage 

Chaminade-Madonna and Plantation American Heritage played in the thriller of the year in September. A game that featured over 25 FBS prospects and college coaches from Ohio State and North Carolina. A complete offensive shootout, totaling 76 points and over 1100 yards of total offense. Chaminade pulled out a close victory between a clash of two nationally ranked teams highlighted by junior four-star running back Davion “Bullet” Gause, he put out a monster performance of 268 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns. While American Heritage’s Ohio State commit Mark Fletcher didn’t shy away at all, finishing with 224 total yards and 2 touchdowns.— 


Creed Whittemore’s five-touchdown night for Buchholz, Sept. 16

Buchholz Bobcats quarterback Creed Whittemore (2) throws the ball during a football game against the Eastside Rams at Citizens Field in Gainesville FL. Sept. 9, 2022.

The Buchholz Bobcats were nearly stunned in their first road test of the season back on Sept. 16 when the ‘Cats traveled to St. Johns Creekside for a district matchup. Buchholz took a 34-14 lead over the Knights in the first half, only to be outscored 13-0 in the third quarter, allowing Creekside back into the ball game. Both teams would put up 14 points in the final quarter, allowing Buchholz to escape with a narrow 48-41 win. How’d the Bobcats do it? Well, Buchholz’s senior quarterback Creed Whittemore played a big part in the win, combining for five touchdowns — three through the air and two with his legs. Whittemore, who is committed to Florida, went 17-for-28 through the air, good for 269 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The senior signal called added another 137 yards on the ground with eight carries — good for an average of 17.1 yards per carry. Needless to say, without Whittemore, the Bobcats likely don’t escape St. Johns with a win. 


Orel Gray’s 473 yards for University Christian, Sept. 23

University Christian's Orel Gray #4 scores a touchdown during the second quarter of a regular season high school football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 at University Christian School in Jacksonville. The University Christian Fightin' Christians defeated Union County Fightin' Tigers 33-14 after a 30 minute lightning delay at the end of the third quarter.

For one night, the senior turned into an unstoppable all-around machine after a seven-hour drive to Rabun Gap-Nacoochee of Georgia. In one evening, Gray compiled 473 all-purpose yards: 285 yards rushing, 71 yards receiving, 52 yards on kickoff returns and 65 yards on interception returns. The two-way athlete, who picked up a Middle Tennessee offer at the end of September, completed the first six weeks as the Jacksonville area’s leading rusher and appears on course to approach 5,000 all-purpose yards for his career. – 


No. 1 Lakeland beats No. 4 Osceola in battle between ranked teams

Lakeland dancers and cheerleaders follow the team on to the field prior to the Dreadnaughts' game against Seffner Armwood last week in the kickoff classic.

Lakeland passed its first major test of the season by defeating Kissimmee Osceola, 25-22 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the score indicated. But for three somewhat fluky big plays and missed extra points, the game wouldn’t have been as close. On paper, Lakeland outgained Osceola by just 46 yards, 274-228. On 43 of Osceola’s 46 plays, the Kowboys gained just 63 yards. They scored twice on two big plays. First, sloppy tackling on a quick pass just past the line of scrimmage allowed Ja’keem Jackson to bounce off the defensive backs and breakaway fro a 68-yard score. On the other play, Lakeland read a wide receiver screen and had two defensive backs in front of Jackson, yet they somehow missed knocking down the pass or intercepting it. Jackson went 42 yards. It should be noted that Jackson is a Florida-commit. With the talent in Lakeland’s secondary, it’s hard to see the Dreadnaughts giving up those kind of plays again. Osceola’s third touchdown was set up by a trick play, a halfback pass. Lakeland twice went up by two scores and had amore consistent offense behind Zach Pleuss’ passing (107 yards), and a rushing attack that finished with 167 yards.


Miami Central upsets IMG

Early in the season, Miami Central pulled off the upset of the year. FIU commit, Keyone “Lyghts Out” Jenkins, led the offense with ball control and great decision making. Defensively they were led by Ruben Bain with three sacks and Lawayne Mccoy with a huge pick-six  late in the third quarter that gave Central the lead and they never looked back. Miami Central may have shocked the world. But for head coach Jube Joseph and his staff, this is the norm for “Roc Nation”. Aiming for a 4th consecutive state championship, Jube and his staff lives by the statement of “no free rings” and that victory over IMG supports that. — 

Northeast Florida 

Baldwin’s upset of Baker County, Sept. 16

Only 10 miles separate Baldwin and Baker County along U.S. Highway 90, but it’s taken more than a half century for Baldwin to come out on top of its larger rival. The schools have met off and on through the years, but when the B-Town squad came out on top 30-7 in Macclenny over the 2021 state semifinalists on Sept. 16, it marked a major rarity. Just how rare? Baldwin’s last victory over Baker County occurred on Nov. 1, 1968. The result led to a surge of more than 1,000 tickets for Baldwin’s next home game, a shaved head for principal Mike Townsend (courtesy of quarterback Jalen Hitchens) and all-out small-town celebration for 4-1 Baldwin, which only last year earned its first-ever FHSAA playoff win after more than a half-century of football.

Northwest Florida 

Niceville catching lightning in a bottle at QB with Harrison Orr

Niceville quarterback Harrison Orr looks downfield to pass during a game held on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Crestview.

It’s not so much a surprise that the Eagles are undefeated. After all, they haven’t lost a regular-season game since Grant Thompson took over in 2019. But their ability to reload at QB1 for a fourth straight year is something the school and Panhandle have never seen. There was Will Koch three years ago. Trey Wainwright two years ago en route to Mr. Football honors. Addie Moore last year. And now, Harrison Orr this year. Slotting over from an all-state defensive back campaign as a sophomore, Orr’s dual-threat talents have led him to 947 passing yards and five touchdown tosses on a 70% completion rate to go along with 316 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. As Orr goes for the 6-0 Eagles, so does Niceville’s offense.


Every time Cedric Baxter Jr. touches the ball 

A lot of possible ways to go here including Seminole’s 28-27 win at Osceola, Winter Park’s undefeated start and Lake Brantley’s 22-21 district win against Lake Mary. But Edgewater running back C.J. Baxter has been nothing sort of extraordinary. The Texas commit is averaging better than 200 yards per game and topped the 3,000-yard mark for his career against West Orange. Baxter is on pace for a 2,00-yard season and more than 4,000 career yards. Enjoy it before he leave

Palm Beach

Cardinal Newman emphatic at Pahokee in Week 1 

Henry Bennett (19) of Cardinal Newman breaks free for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Pahokee on Thursday, August 25, 2022 in Pahokee.

We tabbed it in the presespanson as one of Palm Beach County’s most exciting 2022 matchups and Cardinal Newman certainly delivered in the spotlight. The Crusaders pummeled Pahokee 40-12 in the Muck, delivering a preview of the offensive explosiveness and defensive solidity that has powered Newman to a 6-0 start. Pahokee’s rebound win at Palm Beach Central was a candidate for top first-half highlight, but the Blue Devils’ surprise Monday loss to Dwyer makes clear Newman’s status as the top team in Palm Beach County. —


New-look Land O’ Lakes keeps winning 

The first half highlight of the season has been the surprise play of the Land O’ Lakes Gators through four games. Yes, the Gators went 9-1 last season behind Trac Baughn as head coach and Kyle Horvath at quarterback. Neither are around this season and the Gators have just kept it moving. Land O’ Lakes is 4-0 on the season and have huge wins over River Ridge and Zephyrhills Christian Academy, a couple of the better teams in Pasco County. The Gators have been a pleasant surprise. — 


Gulf Breeze surges past Pace with last-second score

The Pensacola-area’s best game took place just last week. In front of a spirited Santa Rosa County crowd, the Patriots and Dolphins battled in a back-and-forth tussle where neither team enjoyed more than a seven-point cushion. After each team countered the other’s best punch, Gulf Breeze got the last laugh when Battle Alberson unleashed a 44-yard scoring pass to Bryson Rouillier with 33 seconds left to give the visitors a 35-28 victory. The game may not having much meaning from a state-wide level, but the Dolphins’ victory was crucial in what will be a tight District 1-4S race. —

St. Augustine

Bartram Trail reloads with stifling defense, explosive offense

Bartram Trail junior quarterback Riley Trujillo (11) rushes the ball in a game against Lincoln on Sept. 15, 2022, at Gene Cox Stadium. The Bears won 24-7.

Any suspicions of a so-called “rebuilding year” at Bartram Trail were quickly expelled in the season’s opening month. The Bears shut down Ponte Vedra, Mainland and Lincoln — holding the three quality squads to 13 combined points in 12 quarters. Against rival St. Augustine, the offense took center stage — rolling up 570 yards of total offense and scoring 59 points in the series’ highest-scoring game ever. Bartram Trail still has huge district games ahead, particularly with Creekside and Buchholz, but this is shaping up to be a special season in spite of the roster turnover. 

Tampa-St. Petersburg 

Alonso Ravens undefeated start

Without a doubt, the highlight in Hillsborough County to date has been the play of the Alonso Ravens. This team has run the table through the first five games under first-year head coach Hayden Cantrell and it’s been an impressive start for the Ravens. Alonso has done it behind the arm of quarterback Terrell Russell Jr. and running back Josh Andrews. Both players have played stellar up to the midway point and Alonso will have a chance to compete for a district championship in District 7-4M. —

Treasure Coast 

John Carroll Catholic makes statement in Week 1

Benjamin High School hosts John Carroll Catholic in a high school football game on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022 at Benjamin High School in Palm Beach. John Carroll won 24-21.

After back-to-back years reaching a regional championship game in the state playoffs, John Carroll Catholic figured to be a contender again for success in Class 1S. Going down to Benjamin in Week 1 figured to be a matchup of two teams both with high expectations for the end of the season and the game didn’t disappoint.  With the Rams trailing 14-10 at halftime, John Carroll forced an early second half turnover that capitalized on with junior running back Tony Colebrook scoring from six yards out to give the team a 17-14 lead they didn’t relinquish. Riding Colebrook in the second half, John Carroll’s offensive line was the difference paving the way to churn out yardage and bleed the clock and the Ram defense had an excellent night tackling Benjamin’s athletes in space in a 24-21 victory showing that John Carroll has what it takes to be a possible state title contender come December. —

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