Bolles, UC take aim at state title game berths

Bolles quarterback Ben Netting (12) outruns the Creekside defense for a touchdown during a game this season. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)
Bolles quarterback Ben Netting (12) outruns the Creekside defense for a touchdown during a game this season. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two high school football teams remain standing in the state playoffs, and they happen to be two of the most successful in state history.

Bolles, with a state-record 11 championships, hosts Cocoa on Friday night in the Class 4A state semifinals. University Christian, not far behind with nine titles, goes on the road to face Lakeland Victory Christian.

A glance at the games. Both are at 7:30 p.m.

Class 4A

(1) Cocoa (8-3) at (1) Bolles (10-1)

Playoff road: Bolles d. South Walton, 62-6, d. Bradford, 16-6; Cocoa d. Astronaut, 48-6, d. South Sumter, 31-23. Both teams had first-round byes.

Winner gets: (1) St. Petersburg Lakewood or (4) Miami Booker T. Washington in the state championship on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. in Daytona.

Record against playoff teams in the regular season: Bolles (3-1), Cocoa (4-2).

An excellent state semifinal. Cocoa is attempting to reach its fourth consecutive state championship game. The Tigers faced Bolles in the title game in 2016, winning 31-17 in the final game of coach Corky Rogers’ career. Raines beat Cocoa for the 4A crown the last two seasons. Can Bolles slow down the Tigers and RB Caziah Holmes, a Penn State commit, who has rushed for 1,401 yards and 18 TDs? A diverse Bolles offense has no shortage of players who can produce. Kade Frew is coming off the best game of his career. He rushed for 203 yards on a whopping 28 carries last week against Bradford. In two of Bolles’ toughest games of the season (at Mainland in Week 11 and Bradford), the Bulldogs were confident enough to put the ball in Frew’s hands and let him work. QB Ben Netting doesn’t air it out 30 times a game, but he’s accurate when he does throw (65% passing, 1,960 yards, 11 TDs). He’s got leading WR Davis Ellis back (he missed three games) and Ellis has averaged 6.5 receptions, 103 yards and a TD in two playoff games. Netting (330 rushing yards), Jeremiah Johnson (274 rushing yards), Azeh Kani (267 rushing yards), Andre Parker (245 rushing yards), Landen Frazier (205 rushing yards) and Kenny Samuels III (201 rushing yards in three games before knee injury) showcase how much Bolles spreads things out. And RB Caden Fordham remains the area’s top TD vulture (nine TDs on 21 carries). This one will ultimately lean on how well Bolles’ defense can hem in Holmes. Mack Marrone (86 tackles), Fordham (75 tackles), Simon Brackin (51 tackles), Will Netting (50 tackles) and Hayden Schwartz (eight sacks) will have their most difficult assignment of the season.

Class 2A

(1) University Christian (11-1) at (1) Lakeland Victory Christian (10-1)

Playoff road: UC d. North Florida Christian, 36-6, d. Tallahassee Maclay, 35-28; Victory Christian d. Orangewood Christian, 33-7, d. Foundation Academy, 35-0. Both teams had first-round byes.

Winner gets: (3) Seffner Christian or (1) Hialeah Champagnat Catholic in the state championship on Dec. 5 and 7 p.m. in Tallahassee.

Record against playoff teams in the regular season: UC (5-0), Victory Christian (4-1).

University Christian is in pursuit of its 10th state championship, which would tie Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas for second-most in state history. Bolles’ 11 championships are the record. These teams have a short playoff history, with UC winning all three games between them (21-0 in 2015, 43-13 in 2016 and 28-7 in 2017). In two of those seasons (2015-16), UC went on to win state championships. The bigger question for UC is how healthy will it be going into this one? It held top RB Max McClendon (1,436 rushing yards, 20 TDs) of the Maclay game due to an ankle injury, although UC expects him back this week. When healthy, McClendon is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. His last healthy game (Week 11 against Bishop Kenny) resulted in a career-best 400-yard rushing game. UC had to dip into its stable of ball carriers last week as starter Joseph Carter left after the opening drive with an injury. That left carries siphoned off to Marques Moulds, Jamari Fudge and Orel Gray, who did very well. While he didn’t score, Gray had the best all-around game of his career. He had 20 carries for 105 yards (he entered the game with just two carries all season) and helped UC kill the clock in the second half. Gray also had an interception at the 1 and a catch inside the 10 to set up the eventual winning score. QB Desirrio Riles hasn’t thrown the ball heavily this year, but he’s coming off of a 4-of-5 performance with a pair of TDs. UC’s defense is susceptible to the pass (Maclay scorched the Christians through the air) but much better against the run, which Victory prefers. Cornelius Shaw has 1,769 rushing yards and 18 TDs.

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