JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The opening round of the high school football playoffs are Friday night on the First Coast. A look at area matchups. All games are 7:30 p.m. unless indicated.
(8) Mandarin (7-3) at (1) Seminole (9-0)
Winner gets: (5) DeLand or (4) Timber Creek in the regional semifinals. Mandarin would travel to face either.
The Mustangs won five straight state playoff games (two on the road in the regional round) in 2018 to win their first state championship. Can they bottle lightning twice? Reigning Mr. Football Carson Beck has done well after an uneven start, throwing 14 TDs and just one interception over the last six weeks. Mandarin hopes that its schedule, which included teams like Bartram Trail, Lee, Oakleaf and St. Thomas Aquinas, has helped prepare it for what it hopes will be another lengthy playoff run.
(6) Flagler Palm Coast (8-2) at (3) Apopka (8-1)
Winner gets: (7) Spruce Creek or (2) Bartram Trail in the regional semifinals. FPC would host Spruce Creek, but travel to face Bartram.
The Bulldogs are in the state playoffs for the third consecutive season and they have a challenging opener. Since 2000 — the Blue Darters have made the playoffs each year since then and won three state titles — they've lost just six playoff openers. FPC has lost four straight state playoff games, with its last postseason victory in 2007.
(7) Spruce Creek (6-3) at (2) Bartram Trail (10-0)
Winner gets: (6) Flagler Palm Coast or (3) Apopka in the regional semifinals. Bartram would host either.
It's uncharted territory for the Bears. Yes, they are in the state playoffs for the 16th time in 19 seasons of playoff eligibility, but they've never entered the playoffs with a perfect record. They've answered all challenges this season and have an extremely balanced offense. RB AJ Jones (1,124 rushing yards, 22 TDs) is the big name but this unit is diverse. QB Chad Dodson (1,892 passing yards, 16 TDs) and a big time defense led by DBs Craig Sinclair and Tre'Vez Johnson (combined 10 interceptions) make Bartram a legitimate threat for a deep playoff run.
(6) Wekiva (7-3) at (3) Fleming Island (9-0)
Winner gets: (2) Niceville or (7) Chiles in the regional semifinals. Fleming would host Chiles, but travel to Niceville.
The Golden Eagles, ranked No. 2 in the News4Jax Super 10, wrapped up their third unbeaten regular season. They've combined a very good defense and efficient offense throughout the regular season to get here. QB Dean Hyams (1,516 passing yards, 8 TDs) is the pilot, but the backs behind him, led by Timothy Thomas (811 rushing yards, 5 TDs), Sam Singleton (632 rushing yards, 12 TDs) and TK Kocak (320 rushing yards, 12 TDs), move the chains.
(6) Columbia (7-3) at (3) Ponte Vedra (7-2)
Winner gets: (7) St. Augustine or (2) Lee in the regional semifinals. Columbia would travel to face Lee, but would host St. Augustine. Ponte Vedra would host St. Augustine, but travel to face Lee.
The Tigers topped the News4Jax Super 10 most of the season before losses in three of their final four games moved them down the region standings and into a tricky No. 6 seed. QB Jordan Smith (2,457 passing yards, 25 TDs) is one of the area's top players, and WR Marquez Bell (1,040 receiving yards, 12 TDs) may be the top pass catcher on the First Coast. The Sharks are coming off of their worst game of the season, a 28-7 loss to Creekside. But they've been about as steady as possible before that behind QB R.J. Glod (2,238 passing yards, 17 TDs) and an assortment of playmakers, many of whom have seen their roles expand as the season has evolved due to injuries.
(7) St. Augustine (6-4) at (2) Lee (7-3), 6:30 p.m.
Winner gets: (6) Columbia or (3) Ponte Vedra in the regional semifinals. St. Augustine would travel to face either. Lee would host either.
The Generals edged Columbia in OT to win their district and held strong down the stretch to earn a No. 2 seed that didn't seem possible early in the season. Lee's younger players — QB Cale Zarah (1,570 passing yards, 15 TDs), RB Cobie Bates (407 rushing yards, 4 TDs) to name two — have weathered the growing pains. WR Terry McKinney and Bates are the top two targets. And this secondary, with juniors Isaiah Jones and Larry Smith (both have 5 INTs), is tough. The Yellow Jackets aren't as dominant as they had been, but QB Sammy Edwards (1,745 passing yards, 17 TDs) has three receivers with more than 440 receiving yards (Dequan Stanley leads with 564) and a good defense, too. Darrell Myers and Jaden McDowell have split 195 tackles almost evenly.
(8) Suwannee (5-5) at (1) Wakulla (10-0)
Winner gets: (4) Raines or (5) Westside in the regional semifinals. Suwannee would travel to face either.
The Bulldogs moved into the playoff picture in Week 10 and did enough to stay there. They're coming off of a shootout loss to unbeaten Dublin, Ga. (77-48) and face an unbeaten team in the opening round of the playoffs for the second straight season (they lost 62-15 to a 10-0 Trinity Christian last year). Suwannee likes to run the ball, with three players, RB Jaquez Moore (626 yards, 13 TDs), QB Tyree Taylor (608 yards, 10 TDs) and D.J. Thompson (508 yards, 5 TDs) handling the bulk of the offense.
(5) Westside (8-2) at (4) Raines (5-4), 6:30 p.m.
Winner gets: (8) Suwannee or (1) Wakulla in the regional semifinals. Both Raines and Westside would travel to face Wakulla, and both would host Suwannee.
An excellent opener. The Wolverines have enjoyed their best season since they were the Forrest Rebels in 1999 (a 7-3 regular season and a win in their playoff opener) and were solid in the RPI race all season. QB D.J. Otis is the big name (1,600 passing yards, 19 TDs, 496 rushing yards, 5 TDs), but he's got help all around him. Ahmari Mahan (585 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and Jared Ealey (619 receiving yards, 10 TDs) provide the most offensive support. LB Angelo Philpot is averaging 15.1 tackles and a sack per game to lead a defense that has 36 takeaways. Getting that to translate to success against Raines, the two-time defending Class 4A state champion, will be challenging though. The Vikings have played a challenging schedule and have a physical defense of their own, led by defensive backs Treyvon Hobbs and Kyree Hammond.
(6) Tallahassee Godby (4-6) at (3) Parker (7-2), 6:30 p.m.
Winner gets: (7) Baker County or (2) Pensacola Pine Forest in the regional semifinals. Parker would host Baker County, but travel to Pine Forest.
What a season for the Braves, one of the best stories on the First Coast this year. Parker erased nearly 20 years of history when it beat Westside to win the District 3-5A championship, its first since 2000. QB Will Wyche is the facilitator of this offense (54 passing yards, 11 TDs), but the contributions are everywhere. JuJuan Turner (451 rushing yards, 6 TDs) is a jack of all trades player. Tyrone Williams and Tabari Rollins are impact players on both sides of the ball. And the Braves on defense have gotten production from everywhere. What could tip the scales in this game is competition level. Godby has played a rugged schedule, including the likes of Dothan, Ala., Coffee, Ga., Edgewater, Trinity Christian and Wakulla.
(7) Baker County (6-4) at (2) Pensacola Pine Forest (7-2), 8:30 p.m.
Winner gets: (6) Godby or (3) Parker in the regional semifinals. Baker County would travel to face either.
Panhandle playoff trips have always been challenging for First Coast-area teams, but the Wildcats will try and scratch out a win in the Central time zone. Baker's playoff trip is its fourth straight, but first at the school for coach Kevin Mays. The Wildcats, with RB Scooby Graham and QB Alex Bowen leading the charge, bounced back from district losses to Parker and Westside to earn enough RPI points to reach the postseason. This team played for a state championship in 2017.
(6) Vanguard (7-2) at (3) Menendez (7-2)
Winner gets: (2) Dunnellon or (7) North Marion in the regional semifinals. Menendez would travel to Dunnellon, but would host North Marion.
The Falcons, in their 20th season of play, pulled off a first this year. They'd never won a district title before starching Orange Park 27-0 in what amounted to the District 5-5A championship game. QB King Benford is the major threat for the Falcons (1,352 rushing yards, 15 TDs, according to the Times-Union) and RB Duane Graham isn't far behind (1,096 yards, 14 TDs). Menendez can score, but it has also found itself in offensive shootouts against subpar competition, which could be trouble against a team like Vanguard.
(6) Bradford (4-5) at (3) Gadsden County (5-4)
Winner gets: (2) West Nassau in the regional semifinals. West Nassau has a first-round bye.
The Tornadoes' record isn't awe-inspiring, but they can play when they need to. Defense is the hallmark of Bradford. It is allowing just 14.1 points per game. QB Pedro Carter (455 rushing yards, 4 TDs) and RBs Erric Smith (723 rushing yards, 6 TDs) and Brian Foster (405 yards, 4 TDs) lead an offense that prefers to keep things on the ground. University Christian coach David Penland III said that Bradford's defense is one of the most physical teams that UC — the top-ranked team in Class 2A — faced all season.
Note: Bolles and West Nassau earned No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, and are on a bye in Week 1.
(5) Astronaut (5-5) at (4) Keystone Heights (7-2)
Winner gets: (1) Cocoa in the regional semifinals. Cocoa has a first-round bye.
Another good defensive team in the Indians, who enter this game allowing opponents just 13 ppg and prefer to drag opponents into a slow, physical battle at the line of scrimmage. RB Colby Townsend (800 rushing yards, 9 TDs) leads the Keystone offense and CB Colton Tibbetts (4 of Keystone's 9 interceptions) anchors the back end of the Indians' defense.
(5) Trinity Christian (5-5) at (4) Ocala Trinity Catholic (7-3)
Winner gets: (1) Pensacola Catholic in the regional semifinals. Catholic has a first-round bye.
The Conquerors went through a brutal regular season schedule to prepare them for the state playoffs, which, on paper, should be their easiest stretch of the season. Trinity still has to line up and play though. RB Kyjuan Herndon has been a big play waiting to happen (1,630 rushing yards, 14 TDs) and WR Marcus Burke (765 receiving yards, 8 TDs) has slowly made a case for one of the area's best underclassmen pass catchers. Trinity's defense absorbed some beatings by bigger programs during the season, but won't see opponents in anywhere in the 3A playoffs that rival the Colquitts and American Heritages and Booker T. Washingtons of the regular season.
(6) Baldwin (7-3) at (3) Episcopal (9-1)
Winner gets: (1) Florida State University High in the regional semifinals. Florida High has a first-round bye.
A very good first-round matchup and one of only three openers that is a rematch of a regular season game. The Indians handed the Eagles their lone defeat (35-7) of the year. The 9-1 mark is Episcopal's best since Albert Chester led Episcopal to an 11-0 season as an independent in 2002. This year's Eagles squad has a solid QB in Tucker Tomberlin (1,756 passing yards, 23 TDs), a big rusher in Ershod Jasey (1,091 yards, 15 TDs) and a big time target at TE in Nick Elksnis (596 yards, 6 TDs). Take away a stunning Week 11 loss to a two-win Middleburg and Baldwin has been very good and is difficult to slow down. WRs Xavier McGriff (656 receiving yards, 5 TDs) and Christian Sanderson (652 yards, 6 TDs) are tough matchups. RB Amos Porter (509 rushing yards, 12 TDs) is effective and QB Bryce Tompkins (2,172 passing yards, 21 TDs) can sling it.
(6) St. Joseph (4-5) at (3) Aucilla Christian (9-0)
Winner gets: (2) Tallahassee Maclay in the regional semifinals. Maclay, like top-seeded University Christian, both have first-round byes.
The Flashes had a 9-0 regular season in 2018 and then got obliterated in the playoff opener by a more seasoned team. This game could wind up as shades of last year, except with a different outcome. St. Joseph, led by QB Will Carn (1,597 passing yards, 16 TDs) and RB Aaron Roberson (528 rushing yards, 5 TDs), played a more challenging schedule than it did a year ago, which could help it tip the scales against an unbeaten, but unchallenged Aucilla.
Note: University Christian earned the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.
(5) Branford (6-4) at (4) Hilliard (6-4)
Winner gets: (1) Madison County in the regional semifinals. Madison has a first-round bye.
What an effort by the Red Flashes, who won four of their last five games and punched a first-round game against a Branford team that they've already beaten this season (26-14). QB Lyle Bennett (968 passing yards, 14 TDs) and RB Tywuan Lee (770 rushing yards, 7 TDs) lead the offense. WR DJ Coston has just 16 catches, but they've got for 397 yards and 7 TDs.
(6) Union County (5-5) at (3) Dixie County (6-3)
Winner gets: (2) Mayo Lafayette in the regional semifinals. Lafayette has a first-round bye.
The Tigers held on to the sixth and final seed in the region and get a regular season rematch against the Bears, who they dropped a 27-22 decision to in Week 3. RB Hosea Robinson is a 1,000-yard back (1,080 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and DB B.J. Harvey has 4 of the team's 10 interceptions.