JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The districts are all decided. We've got one week left in the regular season. What a week it was in high school football across the First Coast. Let's jump in to Snaps.
* Parker is your District 3-5A champion. Doesn't seem real, does it?
The last district championship for the Braves came in 2000 when they beat Wolfson to earn the District 3-4A title. The last time Parker was even over .500 in a season wasn't much longer after that (2008).
Since then, it's been a steady drumbeat of struggles and coaching changes.
But following Friday's 26-21 win over Westside (another great story on the First Coast this season, in itself), the Braves have officially turned the page on nearly 20 years of futility with an unexpected district championship.
Parker is now 6-2 with six straight victories entering Week 11. That guarantees the Braves one of the top four seeds in Region 1-5A and a home playoff game in two weeks.
What a great story out of Arlington this year. And it's not over yet.
"We all knew as a team what was on the line, but we didn't let the pressure get to us. We knew what we had to do as a team and we knew the stage we were on, but we played together, made few mistakes but we brought the program a district championship for the first time in 20 years," said Parker quarterback Will Wyche. "I was very excited and proud of my brothers and coaches but there's still a long way to go in this season."
Just how far have the Braves come in a short period of time?
Parker actually forfeited a district game in 2017 rather than play Trinity Christian. Sure, Hurricane Irma preparations were underway in the area, but numerous other schools, even Gateway programs, either moved their games up or rescheduled around it.
Not rescheduling a non-district game is one thing. That happens. Forfeiting a district game is something I can't recall seeing since I've been doing this.
To me, that was a sign that screamed just how far the Braves were from competing.
In 2018, the Braves made a hire of a very, very successful middle school coach in Charron Dorsey.
Dorsey's high school career was stellar at Bolles. He starred in college at Florida State and was an NFL draft pick by Dallas.
While he'd maintained the area's preeminent middle school program in Matthew Gilbert, Dorsey was still very much growing as a high school coach early in his career. His first stint as a high school head coach at Jackson lasted two seasons (he was 6-13 in 2011-12).
Dorsey said that things were different when he took the job at Parker. He'd logged 12 seasons of work at Gilbert and said that he was a better coach entering his tenure at Parker than he was at Jackson.
"Not going to lie, middle school really prepared us for where we are at today. That's where we began at," Dorsey said. "We wanted to bring that on to Terry Parker and this community, the east side of town."
Dorsey said that he and the coaching staff can do so much, but that it's the players who ultimately have to execute.
In the biggest game at Parker in nearly 20 years, the Braves went out and did that. The defense was dominant. In the first half, it forced three turnovers and slowed a very good QB in DJ Otis. In the fourth quarter, it had another two, picks by Tyrone Williams and Darrell Bryant, to preserve the 26-21 win.
"The kids really realized how important this game was for the community," Dorsey said. "They've been pushing themselves and winning. They don't want to stop. I admire the kids for it. There's pressure on both ends, trying to change the program and trying to win."
Wyche said that the Braves aren't done yet. A full-on, blowout celebration wasn't on the menu after that win over Westside. It's only one piece of the puzzle. They stay loose. They laugh. They try and soak up the moment.
Dorsey walked around before the Westside game and said the same thing to each one.
"Coach tells us to have fun everyday even in practice and it's not always about winning," he said. "It may seem like it, but Coach Dorsey and the rest of our great coaching staff always wants us to have fun and enjoy what we do, which is playing for each other and coming out on top each week. You never know when it could be your last go around."
For Parker, it's almost November. And for the first time in almost 20 years, the Braves are still going to be playing while most teams aren't.
• Three other programs wrapped up district championships on Friday night — Lee in 2-6A, Ponte Vedra in 3-6A and Menendez in 5-5A.
The Sharks' 38-35 win over St. Augustine was impressive. And this season as a whole is even more impressive considering that Ponte Vedra has a first-year head coach in Jeff DiSandro — who was hired late in the process in April — and lost its starting quarterback in the opening quarter of the season.
R.J. Glod began the season at receiver before starter Kobi Myers was lost for the season with an Achilles injury in Week 1. He went from catching passes back to throwing them and has guided the Sharks to their first district title since 2016.
If not for a wild hook and lateral at the finish against Bartram Trail, the Sharks would be one of the area's two unbeaten programs entering Week 11.
• The Yellow Jackets' loss was just their third district defeat since 2003. St. Augustine had won 50 straight district games from 2003 through 2015 before an OT upset by Nease ended it. That streak ranks second in area history behind Bolles' state-record 91 games.
• Pretty cool symmetry in St. Johns County. This is the 20th season for both Bartram Trail and Menendez, with both programs opening in 2000. The Bears are enjoying the best season in school history, a 9-0 start that will likely move to 10-0 by the end of the regular season.
Menendez has been in the state playoffs before, but never as a district champ. The Falcons smothered Orange Park 27-0 on Friday night to earn that long-awaited title.
• Trinity Christian finished its gauntlet at 5-5 and wrapped up a playoff spot in Region 1-3A following a 17-14 win over Raines in OT. While it won't be official until RPI rankings are released next weekend following Week 11 games, I've run the numbers in that region and don't see any way Trinity is passed over by No. 7 Wolfson.
The bigger question is will seeds 3 and 4 in 1-3A change? Episcopal is currently fourth and would be perfectly content to stay fourth or even move to fifth to avoid Trinity in the opening round. Florida State University School is third and would host Trinity in the first round if things stay the same.
An Episcopal-Baldwin opener in 1-3A is a far better matchup for those teams.
• The Gateway Conference surge of the non-traditional programs continued, with Wolfson blanking Deltona Pine Ridge 22-0 to move to 7-2. Wolfson's best season in the last 20 years was 7-4 in 2004.
In that span, Wolfson has had 11 different head coaches, including two hires (Chad Parker and Tom Williams) who never coached games. Coach Dennis Bettinger, now in his second season, has a shot to turn in one of the best seasons in Wolfpack history if they can beat one-win Englewood this Thursday. Playoffs or not, an 8-2 season would be one of the best football stories ever out of Wolfson.
Mix that in with the successes of Parker (6-2) and Westside (7-2), and Gateway schools are quite the story this year.
• One of the biggest matchups in Week 11, Fletcher at Mandarin, is basically a playoff game. Both programs opened Week 10 of the RPI standings .03 from the eighth spot in their regions. One of those teams will finish 7-3, and that could be enough for a playoff spot.
• A season that went sideways down the stretch was Sandalwood's. At one point, the Saints were 3-0 and moving in the right direction. They lost their final five games, three of those by a touchdown or less, and finished with their first losing season since 2008.
I didn't think they'd win a tough district (for the record, Oakleaf was my pick in 1-8A), but I didn't think Sandalwood would lose its final five games, especially with a roster that could make a case as one of the area's most prospect-laden.
• Through 10 weeks, we have two area unbeatens — Bartram Trail (9-0) and Fleming Island (8-0). Pretty good chance that both wrap up perfect seasons next week.
• Florida football is one thing, but football in Georgia is a different beast from a fan's perspective. The City Championship game between Glynn Academy and Brunswick, our Football Friday Game of the Week, drew an estimated 7,000 fans.