For Dunnellon, this should all seem pretty familiar. These current Tigers have never known a season that didn’t include at least a couple of playoff games.
For seniors Javon Lee, A.J. Hamilton, Jay Fraziars and Jaquon Edwards, tonight’s Region 5A-2 quarterfinal against North Marion on Ned Love Field at 7:30 p.m. will mark the ninth postseason contest of their four-year varsity careers, and the 11th for Dunnellon since 2015.
“Every year is different because it’s different players, but a lot of guys have been in this situation before,” said Dunnellon head coach Price Harris, who has a 6-4 playoff record with the Tigers. “It doesn’t help us, though. North Marion was in the state championship game last year.
“Our guys understand they’ve got to turn up the intensity, be physical. We’ve got to play our best game every week because there’s no guarantee of next week.”
There’s something else about tonight’s contest that should conjure feelings of déjà vu. The visiting Colts (8-2) faced the Tigers (9-1) on the same field two weeks ago, with Dunnellon capturing the District 5A-6 championship thanks to a 20-14 victory.
“It’s always hard to play teams twice in a year,” Harris said. “It’s going to present a challenge and hopefully our guys are up for it.
“It’s a county game, it’s a rivalry game. I think both teams are up for it. There’s going to be motivation on both sides. It should be a great game.”
North Marion isn’t just any team, though. It is indeed the reigning state runner-up in 5A and the 10th-ranked team in the classification across three different state rankings. Meanwhile, Dunnellon is seventh according to the Associated Press and FloridaHSFootball.com, and sixth in the MaxPreps.com rankings.
In RPI, the Colts were seventh in the region, putting them in a rematch with the second-seeded Tigers.
“They’ve got a ton of speed,” Harris said, reiterating his scouting report from the Week 10 matchup. “They’ve been in a lot of big games and won big games. They’ve got a lot of will and a lot of grit. I expect them to come in with a lot of grit and ready to roll.”
Junior Quintin Gross has carved up opposing defenses to the tune of 1,727 yards and 24 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. Junior Brenden Shipp paces the team with 10 receiving touchdowns in eight games.
The Colts have also run for 1,778 yards and 34 scores. Leading rusher Ed Williams has totaled 570 yards and 12 touchdowns while being limited to seven games due to injury. The sophomore had missed a month when he returned against Dunnellon, scoring two touchdowns, and followed that with a 157-yard, 4-touchdown showing in last week’s 41-34 win over Columbia, a ranked team in 6A.
But the Colts couldn’t solve the Tigers in the biggest game of the regular season for both squads. Dunnellon built a 20-6 advantage, and held on from there. Fraziars, the Florida commit, hauled in six passes for 89 yards with two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. Senior Emmanuel Caballero ran 19 times for 114 yards, and sophomore Trent Townsend completed 12 of 18 passes for 193 yards with the two scoring strikes to Fraziars.
Meanwhile the Tigers stifled the North Marion offense. Gross was 8 of 38 passing for 49 yards and the Colts had 195 yards of total offense compared to 374 for Dunnellon.
“We were able to make plays and the defense played well,” Harris said. “We gave up a couple of turnovers that allowed them to have some success. We’ve got to cut down on penalties. I’d like to see us execute better on offense.”
During their recent run of playoff appearances, the Tigers are 3-0 at home. They’re guaranteed at least two home games this postseason should they advance.
“We’re expecting a big crowd (tonight),” Harris said. “Home-field advantage has been big for us these last five years and hopefully that continues this year.”
Of course, the road team isn’t exactly traveling far, or even leaving Marion County in this case. Vanguard, another Marion County team in District 5A-6, could loom in the next round.
Certainly Dunnellon would like to reach that next round, especially after advancing to the Final Four in 4A last season. But don’t expect the Tigers to look that far ahead.
“Right now it’s so important to go 1-0,” Harris said. “We’ve got to concentrate just on this week and how well we come out and play and come out and execute.
“I expect a great game. It’s not going to be a blowout. Our kids have got to come in focused and ready to roll.”