No Luck Needed For Florida High Defense in  Season Opener

Friday night’s 2021 regional championship rematch between Ocala’s Trinity Catholic and Florida High was everything it was expected to be. Both sides fought extremely hard, but alas – there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Celtics.

Florida High’s defense played a dominant, stifling game at Mike Hickman field, refusing to allow a physically bigger Celtics offensive line to push them around. The Seminole defensive line’s efforts gave the Florida High secondary a lot of opportunities to make its mark on the Celtics with of big hits, frustrating several scoring opportunities and keeping Trinity’s total score under 20. Two game changing plays by senior defensive backs Donavan Barnes and Alexander Day gave the Noles the edge they needed to come out on top. 

Trinity Catholic won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball first on what was another hot and humid night in Tallahassee. The Celtic’s first possession became a pattern for the night, Trinity drives that ended in third-and-long situations. After the first three-and-out, senior running back Jalon Carter took a punt return 20 yards, setting up the Noles’ offense in Celtic territory. 

The Florida High offense struggled in the first quarter, turning the ball over three times. The first of these turnovers resulted from a rushed pass that lead to an interception. The Celtics capitalized with a 30-yard field goal, their only points of the first quarter.

The Noles’ next offensive possession ended in a tipped ball interception that set the Celtics up on the Florida High 45-yard line. However, Trinity soon found itself in a third-and-twenty, forcing the punter to kick from its own 30-yard line. That drive ended with the Noles’ third turnover when junior quarterback Jeremy Johnston put the ball on the ground on an option play.

Big hits by senior defensive back DJ Broxton, senior linebacker Ryan Knight and senior linebacker Chris Cotton (who came to play carrying a big hit stick!) led to another third-and-long punt by the Celtics.

Unfortunately, after receiving the punt, the Noles’ offensive woes weren’t over. On the third play of their first drive of the second quarter an option pitch was picked off by a very athletic Celtic defender who scampered 18 yards for Trinity’s first and only touchdown of the night.

Most teams would have folded after turning the ball over four times in the first 20 minutes of a game…but our Florida High Seminoles are not like most teams. The big play capability has been a feature of Florida High football for the last five years and it was time for a Nole to step up and make a game changing play. 

On the ensuing kick off, senior defensive back Donovan Barnes received the ball on the Noles’ 20 yard line. Wearing his signature yellow receiver gloves, Barnes proceeded to set an overly confident Celtics team on its heels with an 80-yard touchdown kick return that completely flipped the game’s momentum to Florida High’s side of the field.

Barnes was not done for the night. The Celtics then took possession of the ball and after a bad snap, found themselves in yet another third-and-twenty situation. Trinity’s quarterback had to throw long under duress caused by pressure from senior defensive back Tay Young and sophomore defensive lineman Maurice Adams Jr. Unfortunately for Trinity, its throw was short and ended up in the hands of Barnes, who returned the 60-yard interception to the Celtic’s one yard line. 

Senior running back Rhyder Poppell, whose name was called regularly by the announcer for the remainder of the night, hammered the rock through a gap opened up by Adams at tight end and junior offensive tackle Mark Faircloth. In a matter of minutes, the Celtics suddenly found themselves down 10 to 14. 

The Celtics were able to move the ball deep into Florida High territory on their final possession of the first half. A personal foul penalty pushed them back to a first-and-twenty situation. The Seminole defense was able to stop the drive and forced Trinity to settle for another field goal. A missed field goal on the Noles’ next possession ended the first half with a razor-thin 14-13 lead for Florida High.

The Noles received the second half kick off, but penalties and missed cues forced them into a punting situation. A 35-yard Celtic rushing play once again put the Nole defense in a precarious position, with the resulting yardage placing the ball on the Florida High 11 yard line. The Seminole defense stood up once again, with a dominate goal line stand that forced the Celtics to settle for another field goal. The Noles found themselves down 14 to 16.

The ensuing drive was a master class in play calling and execution. Florida High started the 15-play drive on their own 42 yard line. The Noles mixed up run and pass plays, keeping the Celtics off balance and grinding down the game clock in the process. Poppell capped the drive with another rushing touchdown. Florida High opted to go for two, rolling Johnston out to the right where he successfully connected with Adams. 

The Celtics couldn’t get it done on their next possession. After some early success, they were stopped on a fourth-and-four. The Trinity running back took the exchange from the quarterback and tried to catch the left edge, but senior linebacker Ryan Knight was able to shed the tight end’s block and seal off the corner. That allowed sophomore linebacker Josiah Broxton and Adams to sandwich the running back, ending the Celtics’ drive.

After several changes of possession, the Celtics began to mount a productive drive. However, another key defensive play by Day killed the Celtic momentum. Day was battling with a Trinity receiver down the field, and at the last second, got a hand on the ball – breaking up what would certainly have been a game changer for the Celtics. The drive ended with a clutch sack by Knight and the Noles took possession of the ball on the Celtic 27 yard line. All that remained was for Florida High to kill the rest of the time on the clock to take the win.

It is unusual for a team to take on a playoff level game as its first of the season. Most teams would instead choose to start off slow, and come together working out their kinks. Again, our Seminoles are not like most teams! Florida High had some kinks to work out Friday night, but in the end, the Noles’ offense settled down and played the game they needed to in order to emerge victorious. The outstanding defensive effort, characterized by hard hits, big plays and a “bend but don’t break” mentality lifted the team on its shoulders and carried our boys to victory. Although everyone loves a “nail biter,” there may not be much left for our manicurists to work with after Friday night. We will see you in Ponte Vedra next week, Nole fans – bring on the Sharks.

MAXPREPS Players for the Game
Player of the Game: Donovan Barnes
Defensive Player of the Game: Christopher Cotton
Offensive Player of the Game: Brooks Hickman
Special Teams Player of the Game: Donovan Barnes

View complete game photo gallery here.

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