High school football playoffs: Three takeaways from the third week of the postseason

When the sun came up on Saturday morning, there were five Gainesville area football teams still alive in the playoffs. That means five local teams are among the top four in their respective classifications.

That alone speaks volumes about the football talent in the Gainesville area.

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But here are three other things we learned as five Gainesville teams survived the third round of the FHSAA playoffs.

Buchholz is playing inspired

That's the best way to put it — inspired.

When Buchholz (10-2) traveled to Bartram Trail (12-1) on Friday night, the odds were stacked against the Bobcats, who had previously lost to the Bears 21-6 in the regular season.

Bartram Trail was undefeated but wouldn't finish the night that way as Buchholz outlasted the Bears 21-20 in a wet and muddy affair.

The wet conditions in St. Johns, paired with Buchholz's improved defense, caused Bartram Trail to suffer through a fumble-fest. The Bobcats forced three turnovers — the same number of turnovers Buchholz suffered in the regular season matchup.

"The turnover thing was a flip from the first matchup," Buchholz head coach Mark Whittemore said. "We had zero turnovers, we caused them to fumble three times and we scored on two of those fumbles. That was a massive part of the story."

However, the same sloppy field conditions that helped the Buchholz defense forced the Buchholz offense to move away from its typical pass-heavy attack. Instead, the Bobcats were forced to keep the football on the ground.

Buchholz senior quarterback Creed Whittemore attemptedeight passes, which was 30 less than when the Bobcats first met with the Bears on Oct. 21.

"We were definitely run-oriented in this one," Mark Whittemore said. "And it proved to be the prescription."

Creed Whittemore led the rushing attack with 119 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries, while junior running back Quinton Cutler did the dirty work with 73 yards on 17 carries.

Following Friday night's upset, Buchholz travels to Venice (8-3)with a trip to the state championship on the line.

Hawthorne-Union County rematch is still in the cards

Perhaps one of the most exciting games of the regular season was played on Oct. 14 when the Hawthorne Hornets visited the Union County Fightin' Tigers.

Hawthorne went on to narrowly escape Lake Butler with a 28-21 win after trailing 21-0 at the half. The Hornets connected on a touchdown in the final seconds to secure the victory.

To say a rematch is desired would be an understatement. And after Friday night, we're one step closer to getting our wish.

Hawthorne went on to beat Pahokee 21-20 to advance to the state semifinal, while Union County blew past Lafayette 41-6.

While Hawthorne was led by its defense, which tallied a pair of game-altering interceptions, Union County's offense was the biggest factor as senior Rayvon Durant ran for 155 yards against Lafayette with a pair of touchdowns.

And those two storylines are right on course for how the regular season matchup between Hawthorne and Union County shook out — The Tigers' offense tore through the Hornets until Hawthorne's defense found its stride in the second half.

However, before the Hornets and Tigers can meet again, they both have to get past their respectable semifinal opponents — Blountstown for Hawthorne and Northview for Union County.

Columbia Tigers keep on keeping on

Because of how much talent is on the Tigers' roster, it doesn't feel right to call Columbia's state semifinal berth a Cinderella story.

The Tigers were always capable of making this kind of postseason run. However, after starting the season 2-3, it seemed Columbia was faced with more questions than answers.

Those three losses came at the hands of three programs that were still playing on Friday night. Of the three, two programs clinched state semifinal berths and remain in the hunt for a state title.

Nonetheless, the Tigers' playoff run has still been somewhat unprecedented.

As the No. 3 seed in its region, Columbia eased by No. 6 Tallahassee Lincoln 29-6 before upsetting second-seeded Escambia 17-15 on the road on Nov. 18.

The Tigers then went on to top No. 5 Choctawhatchee 20-14 in overtime on Friday night.

Since losing to Trinity Christian Academy back in Week 5, Columbia has played good football.

The full return of senior Tray Tolliver, who suffered an ACL tear last season, has been huge for the Tigers, as well as getting senior transfer quarterback Tyler Jefferson to settle into the system.

But it's been the Tigers' defense that has been the story all season — specifically Columbia's secondary, which is led by Florida football commit Jaden Robinson at linebacker and Indiana football commit Amare Ferrell at defensive back.

Together, Robinson and Ferrell, along with the rest of Columbia's defense, has helped the Tigers tally an impressive 20 interceptions. And that number tends to increase each Friday night the Tigers take the field.

With a trip to the state title hanging in the balance, Columbia will see its toughest test yet as it travels to undefeated Lake Wales on Friday night.

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: High School Football: 3 takeaways from Gainesville area FHSAA playoffs