Florida Times-Union high school sports editor Justin Barney
* Raines may have saved its season with an 18-10 win over First Coast on Friday night.
Imagine you're coach Deran Wiley and somehow the Vikings lose that game. You're now 1-2 going in to the biggest game of the season in Week 4 against Bolles with two gut-punch losses on the resume. (Raines watched a lead dissolve against Miami Northwestern, a game that it should have probably won). Instead, the Vikings and their maligned offense put eight on the board in OT, and then leaned on their defense for a pick to end it.
I don't like putting so much emphasis on a game that means little in the overall picture, but Raines needed a showing like this worse than any team in the Gateway. For such an experienced offense, there has been little to point to since last year as substantial progress. Scoreless in the spring against Trinity Christian. One touchdown in the fall classic against Atlantic Coast. Back-to-back 7-point games in the regular season. Sure, the competition has been stout, but Raines is good enough to be fuming about 14 offensive points in two games.
Not only do they push 18 across on First Coast, but quarterback Marvin Zanders, who had thrown five interceptions in two games, made a huge toss in OT against one of the best defenses that the Vikings are going to see. And just like that, Raines is on the path it needed to be on last month.
Instead of being 1-2, the Vikings are 2-1 with a major jolt of confidence and their biggest non-district win in years.
If that's not a season-defining moment for the Vikings, I don't know what is.
* If I'm picking my top five teams with 30 percent of the regular season in the books, it is: Trinity Christian, Bolles, Columbia, Fletcher and University Christian.
* First Coast has played three good defensive teams to open -- Ribault, Fletcher and Raines - and their glaring weakness has been exposed in each of those. Offense. It was a recurring theme last year, and it has been this year. One of these weeks, it's got to just click for the Buccaneers.
* Atlantic Coast, now 3-0 for the first time in program history, is a team to be concerned about, especially if Traevaris Ferrell continues to feast on opposing offensive lines. The junior had four sacks against Wolfson on Friday. Before you say anything about the competition, Ferrell had a similar night against Raines in the classic.
* Bolles jack-of-all trades Dexter Carter Jr. may be the most irreplaceable player in town. Too often, a word like dynamic gets tossed around in the sports media, but Carter is that. Dynamic. Five touchdowns against North Marion, including one on a 100-yard interception return, add to a growing list of highlights that are stacking up. Remember Carter's breakout game? It came last year against Raines on Oct. 19. Look that one up if you weren't there. Two of the biggest receptions in crunchtime that I've seen.
* Lots of good Gateway Conference games decided by a possession or less: Baldwin over Englewood (25-21); Raines over First Coast (18-10 in OT); Lee over Forrest in OT (21-20); Fletcher tops Sandalwood (31-24).
* White wanted to make a statement on Friday, and it did, drilling Mandarin 46-13 in a game that was decided in the first 10 minutes. The Commanders feel that they're one of the top teams in the Gateway, and the Mustangs will probably vouch for them. The game I've got circled now: an Oct. 11 tilt with Columbia, a game that should probably decide the district title.
* Two gutsy play calls by Fletcher coach Josh Corey over the past two weeks - a half-back pass in OT against Fletcher, and a third-and-6 toss sweep to Abereon Brown with the Senators backed up on their own 6 clinging to a 31-24 lead and time running down against Sandalwood. The Saints have one of the best defenses in town and stacked the box on first and second down.
Corey said assistant Ricky Medlock saw Sandalwood loading middle of the line, bringing its linebackers in tight, on both early downs. The playcall on third down was a pitch to Brown, who went 26 yards for the decisive first down. Huge decision to go back to Brown, who had fumbled inside the Sandalwood 15 three plays earlier, and on such a different play.
"I wanted to get it to [Brown] and get him behind the best fullback in the country and see what we could get," Corey said.
* I like what I see in District 2-2A. UC is obviously the easy pick to win, but there's a jam after that. Duval Charter (3-0), Cedar Creek (2-1), Harvest (1-1) and Eagle's View (0-2) are going to battle it out for one playoff spot. That could fall in a number of different ways, but we should get a good idea of how well Harvest is next week against Eagle's View, while Duval and Cedar Creek meet. It's a pretty exciting race with three first-year district competitors in the field.
First Coast News