By: Ken Cooper
This is what it's all about. High school football programs in Duval County and the surrounding areas begin district play this week, highlighted by the head-to-head match up of the two local powerhouses Sandalwood and Fletcher, in what could be the deciding game for the 8A District1 top spot. Granted, anything can happen as the season progresses, DeLand always puts a competitive team on the field, and Mandarin appears to be turning things around as they are off to a 2-1 start after going 0-10 last season, but Sandalwood and Fletcher appear to be the front runners for the District 1 Championship.
Fletcher is considered by many to be the best team in the area. Led by Running Back, (and South Carolina commit) Jamari Smith, who rushed for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns last Friday against Atlantic Coast, the Senators are off toe a 3-0 start this season. Jacksonville.com's Paul Monaghan has Fletcher Head Coach Josh Cory quoted saying “[South Carolina] coach [Steve] Spurrier has got one heck of a back coming up his way next year. Some of his moves make my jaw drop.” If Sandalwood wants to win Friday night, they are going to have to shut Smith down.
That said, Sandalwood had a hard enough time stopping Sophomore Running Back Jeffrey Holland of Trinity Christian last week as he rushed for 117 yards on 17 carries and the game winning score. Led by a strong running attack, a relentless fourth quarter pass rush, and a few costly Sandalwood penalties, the Conquerors dropped the Saints to 2-1 on the year. In response to the 13 -7 loss, Saints Head Coach Adam Geis plans to “spot play” some of his more experienced players on both sides of the ball to try to cut down on the mental mistakes, and to give Sandalwood Quarterback Parker Boehme a better chance of making some big plays against Fletcher.
So is this a must win game? Geis doesn’t think so. “Who ever wins will probably be the district champions ,and the loser will most likely be the runner up.” Geis down-played winning the district pointing out that the winner will get home field advantage to start the playoffs, but “its not like these kids would be going into Fed EX field to play in front of 100 thousand people.” Geis added, “some kids actually play better on the road because there's less pressure on them when they aren't playing in front of the home crowd.”
While that may be a good point, don't get twisted up in the coach speak; Geis wants to win...bad, and tomorrow Sandalwood will get it's chance to regain the title of “King of the Beach.” This is set up to be one heck of a game!
Kich-off for the game is set for 7pm at Sandlwood. Be sure to follow me @coop5106 for live updates, and scores from the “Wood Shack” during the game.