OAKLEAF – By virtue of a schedule filled with what are dubbed Category 1 teams, Oakleaf High, under first year coach Frank Garis, earned a region playoff spot despite a 5-5 overall record and despite an undetermined 3-1 district 3-7A record.
“November football is the reward,” said Oakleaf coach Frank Garis. “Another week to spend with this team is a blessing. At Oakleaf, this will become an annual tradition.”
In the old days of football, teams that finished the regular season tied played what was dubbed a Kansas tiebreaker; find a neutral field, bring the teams in, put the ball on the 25 and let ‘er rip. Keystone Heights did it a few years ago.
In 2018, in district 3-7A, Oakleaf High tied with Buchholz and Bartram Trail in district play at 3-1; Oakleaf beat Bartram Trail, Buchholz beat Oakleaf and Bartram Trail beat Buchholz.
Tee it up somewhere and let’s see who is best in the crunch.
Instead, FHSAA wisdom added a points system to determine quality teams for playoffs to avoid blowouts in round one. Note: In region 1-4A, Gadsden County, at 0-9, earned a playoff spot.
In their final regular season game, Oakleaf lost to unbeaten 6A Ocala Vanguard 46-34 to actually boost those playoff points.
Garis played the system to perfection and Oakleaf did earn the right to continue the season with an opening round game at Tallahassee Lincoln on Thurs., Nov. 8. Lincoln has a 6-4 regular season and 2-0 district 1-7A record in a three-team district; Leon (3-7) and Chiles (6-4).
Lincoln has been a state powerhouse since 1999 with three state titles, two Final Four finishes and one state runnerup finish in the past 20 years. Lincoln lost legendary coach Yufuf Shakir to Manatee High in 2017 and was replaced by Quinn Gray, a former NFL quarterback.
“Lincoln is a very good team that is well coached with good athletes,” said Garis. “Should be a good game.”
In the other region 1-7A quarterfinals, Buchholz has Edgewater with that winner facing the Oakleaf/Lincoln winner. In the top of the bracket, Hagerty has Robert E. Lee and Columbia has Fletcher.
That being said, the Knights have been on the field with what could be considered the toughest schedule in north Florida with two former state champions: 4A-Raines and 5A-Trinity Christian and three teams now in the playoffs: 4A-Glades Central, 7A-Buchholz and 6A-Vanguard. That lineup accounts for the Knights’ five losses.
“The only game that I scheduled was the Trinity game (week 7) & the Kickoff Classic vs Fletcher,” said Garis. “Seven opponents with bonus points was a big reason we made the playoffs.”
Against Vanguard on Friday, Oakleaf teetered with an upset in the 46-34 loss with quarterback Walter Simmons airing out the game with four touchdown passes off 318 yards.
Simmons has 2,075 yards on the season with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Senior tailback Keshawn King, who has amassed 1,758 rush yards for the season with 175 yards per game average, finished with 132 yards of rushing with just a pass touchdown.
“Every team we play prepares to stop Keshawn,” said Garis. “Our offense has done a great job taking advantage of that and Keshawn is still preforming above and beyond expectations.”
In the first quarter, Vanguard opened with a drive to the Knights’ six, but fumbled the ball away with Oakleaf flubbing themselves on a fake punt attempt that gave Vanguard field position for a four yard touchdown run.
Simmons struck back quickly with a 78 yard strike to Sean Washington to tie the game, but Vanguard again drove the length of the field to retake the lead 13-7 on a seven yard run.
Simmons got stung with an interception returned for a score as Oakleaf fell behind 20-7.
King would get his lone score of the night on a 15 yard pass play to bring the score to 20-13 with linebacker Korei Sheppard grabbing an interception on the next Vanguard drive.
Simmons again struck quickly with a 47 yard pass to Antonio Marshall to put Oakleaf ahead 21-20, but Vanguard kept coming and scored off a three yard pass to lead 26-21 at the half.
In the third, Vanguard again drove the field and scored off a three yard pass to to up 33-21.
Oakleaf had an opportunity squandered on a third down at the Vanguard one yard line with a high center snap getting past Simmons and being recovered by Vanguard.
Oakleaf survived and scored off a Simmons to Washington pass of 25 yards to close the gap to 33-28, but Vanguard zipped a 66 yard scoring pass and a 74 yard touchdown run in consecutive drives to pile on to a 46-28 lead.
“Our big focus is to remove big plays,” said Garis. “When we force teams to execute, we have had better success. We have improved defensively every week.”
Simmons had one final score; a 40 yard pass to Terrance Anthony to end the game at 46-34.
Beat (5A, 6-4) Orange Park 45-14
Lost to (4A, 6-3)Glades Central 32-26
Beat (7A, 7-3) Bartram Trail 69-53
Beat (5A, 4-6) Clay 49-31
Beat (7A, 6-4) Fleming Island 48-29
Lost to (5A, 10-0) Trinity Christian 51-22
Lost to (4A, 9-1) Raines 40-27
Lost to (7A-7-3) Buchholz 42-29
Beat (7A, 4-6) Creekside 55-34
Lost to (6A, 10-0) Vanguard 46-34
Lost by forfeit to (6A, 7-3) Niceville (27-15)
Beat (5A, 5-5) Bainbridge GA 28-6
Beat (5A, 2-8) Hudson 75-0
Lost to (7A, 7-3) Lowndes GA 51-15
Beat (5A, 2-8) Rickards 49-0
Beat (7A, 6-4) Chiles 49-21
Beat (7A, 3-7) Leon 56-21
Beat (6A, 8-2) Escambia 28-3
Lost to (4A, 9-1) Raines 27-20
Lost to (5A, 10-0) Godby 34-24