Games of the year: Northeast Florida's 2021 high school football games to remember

·5 min read

The 2021 high school football season is officially in the books — but not before making some memories that will last a lifetime.

Last-second finishes. Career milestones. Postseason thrills.

In a year filled with highlights, the Times-Union looks back at a few of the most exciting high school football contests of the past season.

See which gridiron thrillers made the Times-Union's list.

Note: These selections were made based on games that were covered by Florida's network of USA Today reporters.

Aug. 27: Atlantic Coast 27, Mandarin 24

Long on the losing end of the rivalry on the Southside, the Stingrays turned the tables to top Mandarin in the season opener. Atlantic Coast jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, powered by Arthur Walker's 196-yard night on the ground, before Mandarin fought back to tie the score. Then, Atlantic Coast drove into position for Kristian Karoglan to boot the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Aug. 27: Sandalwood 19, Fletcher 15

Ciatrick Fason’s career as a head coach almost began with a sound win against the Saints. That’s before Chris Calhoun scored a go-ahead touchdown with 33 ticks on the clock and Sandalwood was able to leave the beach with a season-opening win. Fletcher’s defense stifled Calhoun and the Saints’ offense several times throughout the night but couldn’t stop them one last time as the senior quarterback sped his way into the end zone from a few yards out.

Bolles running back Kade Frew (8) makes a cut as St. Augustine defenders pursue during a high school football game on September 10, 2021. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]
Bolles running back Kade Frew (8) makes a cut as St. Augustine defenders pursue during a high school football game on September 10, 2021. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]

Sept. 10: Bolles 32, St. Augustine 27

Defense tipped the balance as the Bulldogs rallied from behind to win an early battle of area powers at Skinner-Barco Stadium. The Bolles defense hadn't yielded a point all year until the Yellow Jackets came to town and seized a 27-20 lead, boosted by 199 all-purpose yards from sophomore Devonte Lyons. But Bolles' defense took over with a safety and a late Jack Pyburn strip-sack, and Kade Frew — who kept on pounding for 200 yards on 32 carries — rushed for the go-ahead score to keep the Bulldogs perfect.

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Sept. 10: Columbia 27, Oakleaf 23

Oakleaf had Columbia dead to rights in the Dungeon and just couldn’t put the game away against their Lake City foes. The Tigers, just coming off of an embarrassing loss to Bolles, were stagnant on offense for most of the night, but found the energy to score the final 15 points of the game. Highlighted by Jace Hoskey’s 54-yard touchdown catch and run, and a last-minute interception by Amare Ferrell, the Tigers escaped the clutches of Oakleaf.

Sept. 17: Trinity Christian 53, Clearwater Academy International 50

For a while, it looked like history might have to wait. Visiting Clearwater Academy International made gamble after gamble pay off early, leaving unbeaten Trinity on the ropes in Conquerors coach Verlon Dorminey's quest for a 300th win. Freshman Colin Hurley (18 of 29, 267 yards) powered Trinity back into the lead, only for the Knights to drive to the Conquerors' 4 in the closing seconds. This time, the gamble didn't pay off; instead of a chip-shot field goal, the Knights called a run, and Caden Morrell recovered a fumble for Trinity to force overtime. From there, it was all Trinity: Seth Bialek booted the go-ahead field goal, Cam Miller swatted down the Knights' last-gasp pass and the Conquerors cheered as Dorminey became Florida's seventh 300-win coach.

Oct. 8: Columbia 28, Riverside 26

Columbia scored 21 unanswered fourth quarter points and capitalized on Riverside’s six turnovers to beat their rivals. In a game that largely impacted the District 3-6A crown, the Tigers came to life when they needed to the most. Riverside built a 26-7 lead by the fourth quarter and looked poised to cruise to victory as the Backyard was rocking. But Columbia scored once, then added another score, then another. And before long they had taken the lead and left Riverside with more questions than answers. The win helped Columbia lock up the district title in an emotional victory for Tigers head coach Demetric Jackson.

St. Johns County rivals Bartram Trail and Creekside clashed in one of the season's best high school football games.
St. Johns County rivals Bartram Trail and Creekside clashed in one of the season's best high school football games.

Oct. 15: Bartram Trail 16, Creekside 13

The St. Johns County game of the year lived up to its billing. The Longleaf Pine Parkway rivals faced off in their most important contest ever, a District 1-8A decider, and in the early stages it looked like advantage Creekside. The aerial combination Jacob Dennie (14 of 22, 258 yards) and Brendon McMillan (nine catches, 193 yards), plus Preston Strope's 47-yard touchdown rush, staked the Knights to a first-half lead. But Bartram Trail tied the score on Riley Trujillo's pass to Jack Cremen and denied Creekside with Sharif Denson's interception in the red zone under four minutes to play. Finally, the Bears drove upfield and summoned kicker Liam Padron for the game-winner to nail down the district crown.

Fletcher offensive lineman Caelen Lavender (70) leads a charge of Senators players before a high school football game against Nease on Oct. 15. The Senators won 14-13 to grab first-place honors in District 3-7A.
Fletcher offensive lineman Caelen Lavender (70) leads a charge of Senators players before a high school football game against Nease on Oct. 15. The Senators won 14-13 to grab first-place honors in District 3-7A.

Oct. 15: Fletcher 14, Nease 13

Fletcher had stormed back from an 0-3 start but still needed a win to claim the district title, and with Nease quarterback Marcus Stokes marching the visitors to a 13-0 lead, the Senators looked sunk. But Aiden Heilmann cut the deficit with a touchdown reception, and after Fletcher took over at their own 20 with three and a half minutes left, QB Marcelis Tate and running back Jabarri Williams led an 80-yard march. Tate sneaked over the goal line and Tarik Smajic booted the extra point with 17 seconds left to spark the celebrations.

Nease QB Marcus Stokes (2) runs for yardage during a playoff game against Spruce Creek.
Nease QB Marcus Stokes (2) runs for yardage during a playoff game against Spruce Creek.

Nov. 12: Nease 24, Spruce Creek 21, playoffs

A blown lead. A hook-and-lateral. A blocked field goal to end the night. This Region 1-7A quarterfinal had it all, and it ended in an upset win for the Panthers, a team transformed from their one-win seasons of 2019 and 2020. Dom Henry's 96-yard touchdown catch from Marcus Stokes put Nease in command, only for the Hawks to erase a 21-7 lead in the last 4:28 on Sam Rizzo's touchdown and two-point conversion. Undaunted, Stokes marched Nease back upfield to set up Canaan Kimball's go-ahead field goal 25-yard field goal. The drama wasn't done: A Spruce Creek hook-and-lateral to Brody Heffington advanced the ball to Nease's 32, but Panthers linebacker Ben Bogle blocked Spruce Creek's field goal as the time ran out.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Best high school football games of 2021 in Northeast Florida

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