- November 23, 2022
It might feel like the high school football season just began, but now that the calendar has turned to November, the postseason is here.
It's win or go home for all four Sarasota teams. All four are on the road, facing higher-seeded opponents — but that does not necessarily mean they can't win, or even that they are at a disadvantage. Here's a breakdown of each program's next game: the matchup, as well as the players who might decide its outcome.
All games are at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 unless otherwise specified.
This Class 4S Region 4 matchup is a rematch of a Sept. 2 game, which the Sailors lost 42-20 at home. That was back in week two of the season. Both teams have had ups and downs since.
The Sailors come into this game following an off week after a stinging 14-0 road loss to rival Riverview High, one in which the Sailors had two touchdowns called back on penalties. The week prior, the Sailors played perhaps their best game of coach Brody Wiseman's three-season tenure, beating Class 3S playoff team Braden River High 28-3 on the road.
Can the off week help the Sailors get back into the mindset they had that week? If it can, Sarasota has a shot against a Manatee team that finished its season losing three of its last five games. The Hurricanes use a two-quarterback system with junior Johnny Squitieri and sophomore Andrew Heidel; the two have combined to throw for 1,425 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. The Sailors will need defensive backs Tyler Pack and Caleb Bradley to lock down the outside of the field, forcing those QBs into poor throws.
On offense, the Sailors are a run-first team and use a three-man backfield to control the game flow. Juniors Joe Ziegler and Jaden Judge and sophomore Takurian Smith have combined for 1,570 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Rams thought they were done.
It was plain to see on players' faces after the team's 14-7 home loss to Cardinal Mooney High on Nov. 1. Coach Josh Smithers was emotional when discussing his team, especially his seniors. With no game on Nov. 4 to improve their record, all Riverview could do was wait.
"I honestly don't even know how they do it (the rankings) anymore," coach Josh Smithers said at the time. "We'll sit back and see what happens. Maybe there's a game that knocks someone out and gets us in."
He said it with disenchantment, but he was right. There was a chance. Riverview had done enough in previous weeks, and played a tough enough schedule, to impress the FHSAA algorithm and emerge as the No. 7 seed in the difficult Class 4S Region 4.
The reward? A date with Gulf Coast, which has won five in a row with one of the most diverse offenses around. Four backs each account for 268 yards or more and three touchdowns or more. Senior Konnor Barrett leads the way at 497 yards and five touchdowns.
The quartet will test Riverview's stout defense, which has played well all season. Senior linebacker Deshaun Olave and junior linebacker Eugene Hicks, and others, will have their hands full. But Riverview will have an X-factor in junior defensive back/wide receiver Charles Lester III, who is the best player on the field the vast majority of the time. Lester, rated a five-star player and the 18th best player in the country by the 247Sports Composite, will keyed on by the Sharks, as he has been by each opponent in 2022. But big-time players make big-time plays when it matters most. If the Rams are going to pull the upset, Lester will be a key reason.
There's a refrain that first-year Booker coach Scottie Littles has sung all season: there will be some early learning moments for the Tornadoes, but opponents will not want to see the team late in the season.
He was right. Entering the postseason, Booker, a Class 2S school has won four in a row, the most recent a 43-39 win over Class 4S Lakewood Ranch High — a win that knocked the Mustangs (6-4) out of the postseason and sewed up a spot for the Tornadoes in 2S Region 4.
The Tornadoes will hit the road to play Frostproof, a team that won eight in a row before being demolished 41-0 by First Baptist Academy (6-2) last week. Despite the seeding difference, MaxPreps actually has Booker ranked as the better team, 23rd in the class to Frostproof's 25th. And that's not considering how much better Booker has been in recent weeks than at the beginning of the year. The Tornadoes have a real chance to come out on top of the Bulldogs.
The most explosive player on the Tornadoes is junior wideout Josiah Booker, who has reeled in 51 catches for 802 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior running back Ahmad Hunter has also had a consistent season, running for 1,192 yards and 12 touchdowns.
This Class 1S Region 4 game — which will be be held next week, at 7 p.m. Nov. 18, because there are fewer teams in the region — is a rematch of an Oct. 14 game, which the Cougars lost 26-3 to the Rams in Fort Pierce. The Cougars will have to go back on the road to get revenge.
While the first matchup was just four weeks ago, a lot has changed. Mooney played a close game against rival Bishop Verot High, 27-24, then ripped off three-straight wins against St. Petersburg Catholic, Riverview and Bayshore High. The win over the Rams was the most impressive; it's not often a 1S schools topples a 4S school, no matter their respective records. Mooney's use of a two-quarterback system — with junior Griffin Gisotti as a run-first option and junior Johnny Antonucci as a more traditional passer — has given its offense the spark it needed. The Cougars dropped 50 points on Bayshore last week. The Bruins are winless, yes, but scoring that many points with a second-half running clock is impressive efficiency nonetheless.
On defense, the Cougars will need to stop senior Aidan Singleton, a defensive back/wide receiver, who is averaging 31 yards per reception on offense and has two interceptions on defense. Singleton is committed to Lehigh University. JCC junior running back Tony Colebrook should also be a focus; Colebrook has 1,064 yards on the season (6.3 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns.