JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What a week. What a regular season. After 11 weeks of play, the 2019 season is wrapped up for most teams in our area. Let's look at our final week of things in Snaps.
• Best story of the season: The renaissance of Gateway Conference programs.
We've talked a good bit about the surge of programs like Parker, Westside and Wolfson this season and for good reason.
The Wolverines finished the best regular season in forever with an 8-2 finish. They'll get a No. 5 seed for the state playoffs. It's the first eight-win season for Westside since 1999. The Wolverines, then called the Forrest Rebels, finished the regular season 7-3 and won the only playoff game in school history.
Parker edged Westside for the District 3-5A championship two weeks ago and enters the state playoffs for the first time since 2000. The Braves enter the postseason on a seven-game winning streak.
And while there's no playoffs for a 7-3 Wolfson, what a turnaround. The Wolfpack's last seven-win season was in 2004. And things have changed quite a bit since then for Wolfson, the biggest of which is that the school shifted to a magnet school beginning in 2016.
Parker and Westside in the playoffs. Wolfson wins seven games. What a great story. And it's still going in 2019.
• Best chances at state championships: Trinity Christian in Class 3A and University Christian in 2A.
• Best turnaround for a unit: Bartram Trail defense.
As I've mentioned numerous times on air and online this season, if there was one unit on the First Coast that has turned the corner, it's the Bartram defense. That unit had been a yardage sieve over the years. If you paid attention to statistical rankings, the Bears offense was often at the top and the defense at the very bottom. Part of that was playing in video game-like Friday nights, the 60-58-type outings.
If Bartram could somehow shore up the points (and yardage) allowed, the offense, while very good, wouldn't have to score 50 a game to keep pace. The Bears answered that challenge.
The Bears allowed teams 19 points per game this season, an excellent number considering that they played in a district in the state's largest classification, and one that featured a pair of Elite 11 quarterbacks (Carson Beck and Jeff Sims). Bartram allowed 29.3 ppg last year and missed the playoffs with a 7-3 record.
The offensive crew at Bartram is something, the Chad Dodsons and A.J. Joneses and Zach Rhodeses of the team. But the key to the best season in Bears history has been the maturation of the defense.
• With high profile incidents of shootings outside the gates at football games in recent years, including last year's triple shooting at Raines in Week 1, focus was rightfully on safety entering 2019.
Duval County Public Schools took a big, and perhaps an unpopular, first step in addressing that by moving Friday night kickoffs to 6 p.m. We just went through a full regular season and endured no events of that nature.
• In a few conversations with officials this season, the one thing that I found the most interesting — middle school games are the worst to officiate. The recurring theme I heard is that middle school games are filled with more venom from parents and coaches, far more than high school games.
• Best game of week 11: Mandarin holding off Fletcher, 27-21, likely doing enough to get in to the state playoffs in a brutal Region 1-8A.
• Milestone in Week 11: Fletcher RB Myles Montgomery entered the week a hair under 2,000 rushing yards. He rumbled for 168, according to the Times-Union's Clayton Freeman, and became the area's only back this season to hit the mark. Montgomery finished the year with 2,127 rushing yards, the first Senators back to hit the 2K mark since Jamari Smith in 2011.
Montgomery reached the mark in 10 regular season games; Smith did it in 14 that season. Only Ciatrick Fason had hit 2,000 in a regular season for Fletcher. He did it twice during his record-setting career.
In an era of spread offenses, big rushing seasons aren't as prevalent as they used to be.
• Speaking of electric rushing performances, how about University Christian's Max McClendon in Friday's 54-40 win over Bishop Kenny?
McClendon was about as dominant as you'll see in a game, rushing for five touchdowns and, according to the Times-Union's Shannon Heaton, 397 yards on the ground.
That's one of the area's better rushing performances in recent memory, joining the likes of Providence's Jamauri Wakefield in 2014 and Clay's Bilal Ally's monster season in 2015.
If the name McClendon and University Christian seem familiar, it's for good reason. McClendon's father, Willie, was the all-time area rushing leader after a record-setting career at UC. McClendon rushed for 6,912 yards over three seasons at UC, doing that over just three seasons from 1985-87. That mark stood under Fletcher's Fason came along and broke it in 2001. Fason finished with 7,479 yards.
Current UC is quite a bit more diverse, and throws the ball quite a bit more than those mid-80s UC teams. But for a night, Max McClendon was running it better than his dad.
And UC needed every bit of McClendon, too. Kenny, despite its 1-7 record going in to Week 11, answered every thing that UC threw at it in a wild back and forth marathon that could have easily gone to the Crusaders.
That is, if they could bring down McClendon.
"Well BK had a pretty solid defense. Well coached, too," he said. "They had aggressive and strong D-linemen and their linebackers were reading run first, so it was hard at some points to pick up just a few yards."
By the time UC had enough to outlast Kenny, McClendon was knocking on the door of a 400-yard rushing game, something his father, who signed with the University of Florida and backed up Emmitt Smith, never did.
"He's taught me everything I know, starting with switching the ball to the correct hand when running," Max said. "And I always used to play with him about breaking his records, so we were both real excited last night when I finally broke one."
• I finished 18-14 in my final week of predictions. This week, those included a slate of awful picks, the worst of those a 27-26 Dixie County pick over Westside. The Wolverines obliterated the Bears, 43-8. Still a respectable finish on the season in predictions with a 265-95 mark (.736).
• There were some surprises in Week 11, including Creekside over Super 10 regular Ponte Vedra (28-7) and Columbia, our No. 2 team, losing its third straight, this one to North Marion. Another stunner, Middleburg knocking off playoff-bound Baldwin, 32-31.
• Four games shown on WJXT this season, three in Week 1 with the Bold City Showcase and then the 50th Northwest Classic between Raines and Ribault. What great events to be a part of, and, hopefully something that continues to grow for area teams and fans.
• Local playoff teams expected when brackets are unveiled Sunday morning: 26.
• I'm hesitant to proclaim any lower RPI projected team in the state playoffs after we saw the Jackson-Gadsden County fiasco last year (this year's format includes more failsafes to avoid that), but I don't think we're going to see a slew of wild RPI surprises after Week 11 games.
Cut line teams like Suwannee (No. 8 in 1-5A) and NFEI (No. 6 in 1-2A) could be in trouble after Week 11 losses. NFEI is probably in greater danger of missing than Suwannee or any other region final spot teams like Mandarin, Trinity Christian and Union County.
• Hilliard will reach the state playoffs in Region 3-1A, and what a story for the Red Flashes and coach John Pate. Hilliard lost its QB, Nathan Dowie, after a Week 1 loss to Gainesville Oak Hall. Dowie suffered a brain bleed and underwent surgery. He hasn't been able to play since. Already playing with a small roster, Hilliard went 6-3 the rest of the way. Resilience from the boys in Nassau County.
• I think we could see some shifting in Region 1-3A. We could see Episcopal move up to No. 3 there following Ocala Trinity Catholic's loss in Week 11, and I think we could see Baldwin swap places with Trinity Christian, from No. 5 to 6.
Bottom line: No one wants to see Trinity Christian. The playoffs are supposed to be the ultimate test for teams. It's a unique situation in Class 3A, but in Trinity's case, it could be the easiest four games they'll play this season.
• Most surprising playoff misses: Oakleaf (7-3 in Region 1-8A); Sandalwood (3-5 in 1-8A).
• Taking a moment to look back at some ot he best games of the 2019 regular season.
Ponte Vedra 17, Nease 14
Columbia 21, Oakleaf 19
Creekside 58, Nease 51
Trinity Christian 45, Tallahassee Godby 42, OT
Venice 50, Trinity Christian 49, 2 OT
Parker 40, Atlantic Coast 39 (OT)
Westside 24, Baker County 20
Bartram Trail 29, Ponte Vedra 27
Ribault 34, Lee 30
Raines 22, Sandalwood 21 (OT)
Lee 27, Columbia 21 (OT)
Mandarin 34, Oakleaf 33
Menendez 44, Clay 43 (OT)
Stanton 35, Paxon 24
Raines 10, Ribault 7
Parker 26, Westside 21
Mandarin 27, Fletcher 21
Middleburg 32, Baldwin 31