Schedule Changes Galore! Awesome Games Ahead!
Hurricane Ian may be long past and the remaining parts of the once destructive storm are still making impacts. Particularly in Lake and Sumter Counties where Athletic Directors have been scrambling over the past week to reschedule games which were impacted by the storm. While many games have been rescheduled some have been cancelled. We will keep you up to date on all the changes that continue to be a work in progress. We do however have a nice slate of games to preview for this upcoming edition of Friday Night Lights! Let’s take a look at what is sure to be an action filled Friday evening across Lake & Sumter Counties!
Game Of The Week Spotlight
The Villages Charter School @ Mitchell High School Friday at 7:30pm
The Buffalo have not played an actual game in almost half a month if you can believe that! The last time The Villages took to the field was during a 38-6 blowout win against Leesburg High School back on September 23rd. Their game against Eustis was cancelled which was scheduled for September 30th so that means The Buffalo should be coming into this game well rested but ready to play some football. This should be a tough test for a Buffalo team that now has its next four games on the road. In fact they don’t play any home games in the month of October with the next one coming during senior night against Wiregrass Ranch on November 4th.
The Villages comes into the game 2-2 on the season. They started the year being outscored by opponents by a margin of 74-15. That was unlike anything we have witnessed this team do in the past 5 or 6 years under head coach Richard Pettus. But as any head coach would do Pettus has made some great adjustments within the team to maximize the potential this Buffalo team has. In a questionable move The Villages moved Junior #7 Alvon Isaac to a wide receiver roll to start the season off. That move ultimately didn’t pan out the way The Villages envisioned, so during games Isaac has been utilized as the teams leading Running Back. This is a position he is very familiar with having played it the last two seasons.
And what a season it has been for the 5’11 175lb Junior RB. On the season he now has 16 offensive Touchdowns and at least 2 touchdowns from defensive interceptions. That total is almost 20 touchdowns this season which is an incredible statistic on its own. Isaac just broke The Villages Charter School Record for back to back games with 5 touchdowns and looks to break a Lake & Sumter County record this Friday if he can score 5 touchdowns against Mitchell. He would be the only player in history with that honor in Lake & Sumter Counties to date. Some teams have a running back by committee approach which utilizes two running backs much like South Sumter but The Villages has been all in with #7 and so far it seems to be holding this team together.
The play of Danny Bitting the Quarterback of The Buffalo has certainly stabilized as well. Bitting struggled early in the season but has found his footing. The Junior QB has never looked better averaging 17.8 yards per throw and passing for over 500 yards on the season. Bitting will have his work cut out for him because The Mustangs defense has look spectacular this year. Senior Jake Levake leads the teams in tackles and sacks. Difficult defense is something Bitting has had to contest this year. Especially having to play teams like the 6-0 South Sumter Raiders this year and a decent Zephyrhills squad that really gave The Buffalo all they could handle. The Buffalo defense has been feared by opponents for the last 5 or 6 years but this year the start of the season got off to a rocky start. However the Buffalo have found some excellent players who have helped considerably this season. Senior Linebacker #41 Jake Phillips leads The Villages in Tackles so far this season. His play has been outstanding and is a reason
The Villages has rekindled the magic of past defensive prowess. He is a feared opponent for any offense and is always involved in some way shape or form when the ball is thrown or run in his direction. Phillips gets help from Junior #10 Cliff Bridges who helps Phillips in so many ways. Between the two of these players they have over 70 tackles so far.
As for The Mustangs of Mitchell High School they started the year off great but they have lost 2 games in a row. They come in off a difficult 17-7 loss against a Land O’ Lakes team having its best season in perhaps a decade. Land O’ Lakes is now 5-0 on the season and the Mustangs are 3-3. In the past two games the Mitchell Offense has only scored a total of 17 points. This is a far cry from scoring over 140 points in the first 4 games of the season. Senior Quarterback Chris Ferrini will need to have a mistake free game against a very good Buffalo defense.
Overall this game is shaping up to be one of the more competitive contests of the week. Can The Villages get win number 3 on the season and put themselves over 500 for the first time this year? Or will Mitchell be able to get their season back on track with a big home victory? We will have a full wrap up of this game and all the Friday Night Lights games on Monday.
Mount Dora Hurricanes | Senior Running Back | #2
For the second week in a row Dante Johnson-Turner gets the Player Highlight. Johnson-Turner is coming off his best performance this past Tuesday Night as he scored 6 touchdowns to help secure The Hurricanes 3rd victory of the season! Johnson-Turner is one of the few running backs in Lake & Sumter County to already have over 1000 yards on the season. Turner has 950 yards on the ground and 100 yards through the air through just 5 games. Those are insane numbers especially for a Mount Dora High School team that hasn’t had a threat like Turner in the past. He has already carried the ball over 100 times and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry. If you’re an opposing defense and you see this guy staring at you in the face on the other side of the ball, get ready for a rough day at the office. Turner along with fellow QB Matthew Butler lead the team in Touchdowns with 8 a piece. Seven touchdowns on the ground with 1 scored through the air.
Turner is the kind of running back you want on your team. The statistics don’t lie, this guy not only is having a career year but last year he only had 4 touchdowns total on the season. This year he has 8 so far! That is a 100% increase in production from this senior. He rivals running backs like Alvon Isaac for The Villages and Jamare Dorsey for South Sumter. All very similar backs with different speed and sizes that set them apart. But what truly sets Turner Apart is his speed. At 5’7 184lbs his small but agile frame allows him to blow past defenders. And who says being small is a bad thing? Think of J.J. Taylor who stand 5’6 and plays for the New England Patriots or Boston Scott who is 5’6 and plays for The Philadelphia Eagles. Even Darren Sproles was 5’7 and he was one of the greatest of all time. That being said size matters not and Turner is a estimate to that.
Turner will go down in Mount Dora High School as one of the all time great running backs to come through the program. He has already proved that. But can he continue his fantastic play this season and potentially give The Canes their first winning season in 5 years? Time will tell but this guy absolutely deserves the spotlight again this week.
This Week’s Matchups
Wildwood Wildcats @ Chiefland: Friday | 7:30pm
This game is going to be an incredible contest and just like our featured game we will be talking about this one quite a bit. Wildwood comes into the game sitting at 4-1 on the season. Much like cross town rivals The Villages the Wildcats had their game last week cancelled due to Hurricane Ian so they have not played since a 78-0 routing of Akelynn’s Angels Christian Academy. Safe to say The Wildcats will be ready to play some football that is for sure! Senior Quarterbacks #7 Vernell Brown Jr. and #10 Jamari Dickens have confused defenses. Both quarterbacks have been used in not only passing but wildcat and option formations. This has lead to defenses having to adjust mid game to this wild offense that Wildwood has instilled this year. Brown Jr. and Dickens lead the team in touchdowns and although this team is more run oriented than we have seen of Wildcat teams of the past the offensive line has looked stellar this year.
The Wildcats defense will have their hands full this week. Cheifland comes into the contest 4-0 on the season and has outscored their opponents by a whopping 141-20 this year! That is some serious offensive firepower Chiefland has. That will be utilized to its full extent as 6”3 200lb Senior Quarterback #9 Michael Tovine has a total of 7 touchdowns this season. Tovine has look excellent throwing for nearly 500 yards thus far. Tovine gets help from fellow running back Dakota Fisher who leads the team in rushing touchdowns with 6 so far. Fisher averages 11.8 yards a carry which is an amazing statistic. That is among the top 5 averages in our area. The wide receivers can be a threat too with Senior Clint Thomas leading the team with 4 touchdown receptions.
This should be a fun matchup between two powerhouse programs. The main goal for Wildwood is to posses the ball as much as possible to keep the high flying offense of Chiefland off the gridiron. If the Wildcats can do that they will have a chance in this game. As for Cheifland they desperately want to keep the perfect season alive so look for them to come out of the gate ready for a primetime Friday Night Showdown.
South Sumter Raiders @ Zephyrhills: Friday | 7:30pm
We have never seen a South Sumter Raider Football team this good in our lives! There we said it! This Raider team is without question one of the best teams we have ever seen in Lake & Sumter County History. They are breaking records left and right and the 6-0 start to the season has only proven that South Sumter belongs in the Florida Top 25 Football rankings. The Raiders are coming off an impressive 50-0 victory against Crystal River.
The Pirates looked stunned and without answers as The Offense ripped through their defense and sent the Pirates home with a goose egg on the board. Raider QB #5 Eian Finkley is one of the best all around athletes in our community and he is backed up by two of the best running backs in our area. Junior RB #3 Jamare Dorsey and Senior RB #24 Kaden Payne have combined for nearly 1,000 yards rushing between the two. The duo have been the best running back committee we have seen in a long time. If Zephyrhills has any chance in this gamed they have to stop this powerful offense The Raiders have. If not it will be a long night As for Zephyrhills don’t think a win is impossible but it will be a massive upset if The Bulldogs can make some magic happen.
The 3-2 Bulldogs have wins against The Villages and Wiregrass Ranch and actually kept it close with IMG Academy although they lost so don’t think this team doesn’t have it in them. The Bulldogs have utilized Junior QB #6 Brendyn Colella effectively this season. Colella has one of the better receivers in Florida with Sophomore #5 DJ Pickett. Pickett has almost 250 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns this year. Junior Running Back #10 Rodney Smith leads the team in touchdowns. We think Zephyrhills will likely need to pull out some trickery to keep up with South Sumter. Even if the defense is able to stop The Raiders the offense will need to produce. That is something teams just are not doing agains the Raiders this year. This one has upset written all over it. If somehow the Bulldogs can keep it even by halftime. There is no telling what could happen.
Umatilla @ Anclote (Holiday) Friday | 7pm
The Umatilla Bulldogs have had an up and down season this year. Two games in 3 days is going to test this Bulldog program. Umatilla is fresh off their game against Mount Dora. Unfortunately they lost and come into the contest 2-3 on the season. Meanwhile The Sharks have not had a games since September 23rd a game Anclote lost 42-6 against Cypress Creek. The Sharks come into the contest 1-3 on the season. This is a winnable game for Umatilla a program that has a lot of potential. Mekhi Benn leads the team in receiving. He has looked excellent this season as has QB Troy Saladin who is averaging 5.6 yards rushing this season. Umatilla does not throw the ball that often but when they do Junior Logan Bowling has had flashes of brilliance. If Umatilla can get this win it would really set this team up to potentially have a winning record this year.
Mount Dora High School @ Pine Ridge: Friday | 7pm
The Bulldogs of Mount Dora are off to the best start this program has witnessed in years. They come into this contest 3-2 on the season. Coach Hutchinson is leading the team in the right direction. The Canes have had ups and downs this season but this is a truly winnable game against a Pine Ridge team that comes into the contest 0-5 this season. Mount Dora’s Running Senior Back #2 Dante Johnson-Turner has looked terrific during the win against Umatilla on Tuesday racking up 6 touchdowns in that contest. Johnson-Turner is one of the top 5 running backs in Lake & Sumter County. He averages 7.6 yards per carry and has over 14 touchdowns on the year. Senior Quarterback Matthew Butler likewise has had his best year ever. He has 9 touchdowns on the year and has over 520 yards through the air. Look for Mount Dora to come out with the Win but this could be a trap game. PineRidge is hungry for their first victory of the season so we can’t rule out a possible upset alert for this one.
Merritt Island @ Eustis: Thursday | 7:00pm
In a special edition of Thursday Night Football we have The Eustis Cougars taking on Merritt Island. Eustis comes into the game 1-3 on the season. This is a difficult matchup against a Mustang team that is coming off a 14-13 Overtime win against Eau Gallie from Melbourne. The momentum is with the Mustangs as they look to possibly pick up what would be a huge road win against a struggling Eustis team. Even though Eustis have had their share of issues this season they have had some bright spots for sure. Senior Quarterback #5 Noel Rodriguez has thrown for nearly 700 yards and leads the team in touchdowns. Rodriguez gets help from Senior Wide Receiver Tyree Patterson who 19.4 yards per reception. Patterson also leads the team in receiving touchdowns with 3 so far on the year. If Eustis wants to end up in the Playoffs this year they need to start winning football games. Although this may be a tough game on paper it is a winnable one for The Panthers. If Eustis can upset The Mustangs it could swing momentum the Panthers way for the rest of the season.
Lake Minneola @ Fleming Island: Friday | 7:30pm
The Hawks come into the game with a 4-1 record overall. Their game against West Port has been rescheduled for October 10th so it will be 2 games in 3 days for the Hawks. No easy task and these are two back to back difficult contests. Fleming Island is sitting at 3-1 and West Port is sitting at 3-2 so both games will be important for Lake Minneola which has started the season off on the right track. Senior Quarterback #14 Quinn Niemann is one of the best in Lake & Sumter Counties. Niemann comes into the game boasting 9 touchdowns on the season.
Perhaps even more impressive is the play of Senior Running Back #5 John Celestin who has an insane 608 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns overall this season. That is in the top two for touchdowns in Lake & Sumter County this season. If The Hawks can get the offense cooking against some fairly stout defenses this could be a great upcoming week for this program. However they need to get out of the Fleming Island game healthy considering they have a game just 3 days later against another tough West Port Opponent.
Lyman @ East Ridge: Thursday | 7:30pm
East Ridge is attempting to salvage its season at this point they come into the contest winless on the season. To their credit the Knights have a fairly favorable schedule in the coming weeks ending with teams also without wins South Lake and Tavares. The game against Lyman will prove difficult. Lyman comes into the game with a 3-2 record but with losses against Lake Brantley and Lakewood Ranch they come in with some serious offensive firepower. That may be too much for a Knight defense who has struggled to keep teams out of the end zone this season. If East Ridge can get the offense going they may have a shot but it could be a rough night for the Knights. Let’s hope East Ridge can pull a stunner and get their first win of the season.
Forest @ Leesburg: Friday | 7:00pm
The Yellow Jackets of Leesburg come into the contest at 2-4 this season. Leesburg is coming off a nice win against Tavares. This was a great bounce back game for the Yellow Jackets. Meanwhile Forest comes into this game sitting at 1-3 this season. Both teams have struggled offensively. Leesburg may have the edge slightly in this contest. Expect this game to be a slugfest on the ground. Both teams need this win badly. The winner of this game may have some momentum moving forward and the hope is Leesburg will find a path forward after an ugly start to the season. A must win game for both schools should put on a good show at Leesburg High on Friday Night.
South Lake @ Forest: Monday | 6:00pm
This game will be played on Monday Night. This is a game impacted by Hurricane Ian. South Lake is 0-5 on the season. Forest will be coming off a 3 game rest against Leesburg so this will be the best chance to date for South Lake to score their first victory of the season. Look for South Lake to pull the upset.
Teams On Byes This Week
Mount Dora Christian Academy
The Bulldogs get a breather before their biggest game of the season when they travel to Lake Highland Prep in Orlando on October 14th.
The Bulldogs get a bye week after a difficult loss against cross town rival Leesburg. The Bulldogs just haven’t found any offense this season but defensively they are in even more hot water. Tavares is now 0-6 this year. A bye week could be just what the doctor ordered for this struggling team. Tavares next game will be October 14th against Vanguard.
This is going to be a fun week of games. The playoffs are fast approaching and minimal time remains for teams to get into playoff contention. After this week we only have 4 more weeks of regular season games. It’s now or never to change the direction a program is headed. Hopefully some of our winless teams can grab some victories this week. The weather is going to be terrific Friday evening in our area. If you can get out and support your local High School please do! At the very least get out and enjoy some gorgeous weather! We will have final scores and a wrap-up on Saturday with a more in depth breakdown Monday morning.
Photos Provided by Steed Multimedia, Elite Factory Photographs, Mount Dora High School
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