FLEMING ISLAND – Lakeland, St. Thomas Aquinas and Tampa Plant have been Florida football powers for nearly a decade or two with St. Thomas Aquinas second in all time championships with nine rings …
FLEMING ISLAND – Lakeland, St. Thomas Aquinas and Tampa Plant have been Florida football powers for nearly a decade or two with St. Thomas Aquinas second in all time championships with nine rings (4A-7A), Lakeland at six titles (in 5A) and Plant at four.
Looking at the current Maxpreps state rankings for Class 7A, the Fleming Island High football boys are sitting in uncharted waters at number three above Lakeland at five and above St. Thomas Aquinas at seven, but behind number one Tampa Plant.
Bartram Trail, the Golden Eagles opponent on Friday, sits eerily at 32 mainly because of two losses; both non-district, a nationally-broadcast 52-45 season opener loss to Georgia power Cartersville High (7-0, 39th ranked nationally) and a 31-28 loss to 6A-power St. Augustine High (5-0, 11th in 6A) on September 22.
Other than that, Bartram Trail has rolled past 6A-Daytona Beach Mainland 35-24, Creekside 49-0, Clay 49-28 and, last week, Oakleaf 48-14. Bartram Trail finishes with unbeaten 4A-Cocoa (40th ranked nationally), Buchholz (3-7A) and Nease (6A).
Fleming Island, on the other hand, at 7-0, has not ventured too far from the confines of north Florida with the best opponents on the slate 5A-Clay and 5A-Ridgeview. Oakleaf, a 13-7 win, was the closest threat of a loss for the Golden Eagles, but the defense finished off that contest.
On offense, Bartram Trail, led by a dual quarterback system featuring Auburn-bound Joey Gatewood, No. 2, a slithery, fast-moving target that tends to start from a pass pocket, retreat out the back then dance his way around would-be tacklers. The second quarterback, Riley Smith, No. 11, is the better of the two of sitting in the pocket and making plays. Gatewood is a solid passer, but is more dangerous if he leaves the pocket. Gatewood has six rushing touchdowns with Smith at one. Gatewood has six passing touchdowns also; Smith has eight.
Running back Devin Ellison, No. 22, has 678 yards, 10 touchdowns, and is best utilized to offset outside rush attacks with a nifty swing pass that has two blockers in front. Crazy good execution on all ends on this play.
Outside, wide out Xavier Hutchinson, No. 4, is a magician with 33 catches and three scores. Bartram Trail even showed off a double pass from Smith to Griffin Helm, a slot receiver, to Hutchinson downfield. Helm has 24 catches.
Bartram Trail has just two fumbles lost and four interceptions in six games. Oakleaf dropped nearly a dozen passes in their Friday loss with four capable of being touchdowns over the top. Oakleaf running back Keshawn King broke twice for long touchdowns; one called back, that showed some internal defensive weakness in the middle for the Bears.
For Fleming Island, quarterback Dean Hyams or Brian Brown will have to release quick, find the open guy and move swiftly downfield. If the Golden Eagles can hold the ball for long drives, Bartram Trail’s offensive circus is neutralized. King proved that breakaways can happen; Oakleaf quarterback Tre Simmons proved that the secondary is vulnerable.
One key on defense, and Oakleaf safety Tristan Brown executed this, is solid open field tackles. Brown tripped up Gatewood three or four times in the secondary to prevent long gains or scores. Fleming Island’s secondary will need to do the same with safety Isaiah Walker’s speed the top threat of getting Gatewood on the ground. The defensive ends are critical to shut down Gatewood’s escape route. Clay got shredded on the corners with Gatewood throwing balloons over outside pass rushers Cody Devore and Josh Griffis to Ellison who ran for long gains.