Buchholz offensive lineman prepare for the snap in front of the Ponte Vedra defense.

Buchholz overcomes Ponte Vedra To Reach Region 1 Final

In a game where the Ponte Vedra Sharks dominated the early stages Friday, the Buchholz Bobcats got back in stride to claim a 34-21 win in the 4S Region 1 semifinal of the FHSAA football playoffs at Citizens Field.

Buchholz (12-0), the No. 1 seed of the region, continues its campaign for the school’s second state championship. The Bobcats will play three seed Jacksonville Bartram Trail Bears (8-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Citizens Field in the region final. The Bears eliminated No. 2 seed Niceville, 28-21, in their second-round matchup in Northwest Florida.

The Bobcats would face the winner of the Region 2 final between No. 1 seed Lakeland (9-3) and No. 2 seed Orlando Lake Mineola (9-3) at a neutral site Dec. 1 in the state semifinals.

Ponte Vedra Strikes First

Buchholz shot down the field quickly on their first drive, reaching Sharks’ territory in three plays. 

The Bobcats’ confidence shot back down after quarterback Trace Johnson’s first pass of the game was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, giving the Sharks a 7-0 lead. 

After pushing toward the Sharks’ goal line once again, Buchholz settled for a field goal to cut four seed Ponte Vedra lead to 7-3.

Ponte Vedra faced the undefeated Bobcats head on, with an 80-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown that put the Sharks up 14-3 early in the second quarter. 

Johnson Leads Buchholz Back

Finding themselves down two scores, a rare occasion for the Bobcats, Buchholz turned to a passing attack to cut down the deficit in the second quarter. 

Off a poor punt from Ponte Vedra that left the Bobcats in scoring territory, Johnson capitalized with a 29-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Justin Williams on the first play of the drive.

The score, which cut the Sharks’ lead to 14-10, was the first of four touchdown passes for Johnson, who was determined to make up for his early mistake 

“You throw a pick, you can’t let it affect you,” Johnson said. “You learn from it, stay in neutral and really just keep the guys motivated and know what the end goal is.” 

Another defensive stop for Buchholz gave the Bobcats an opportunity for their first lead of the game. University of Florida commit Myles Graham performed the honors on a 31-yard run into the Sharks’ end zone. 

With a 17-14 lead, the Bobcats finally had control of the game, which they did not let up the rest of the way.

Drowning The Sharks

Near the end of the first half, Johnson once again found Williams, who broke free for a 60-yard touchdown pass play.

Going into the second half with a 24-14 lead, the Bobcats had found their rhythm on defense and were able to force multiple turnovers to keep momentum in their favor.

Interceptions by linebackers Aiden Brake and Amari Sheppard on back-to-back possessions kept the Sharks from from getting anywhere near the end zone. Buchholz used these turnovers to pad its lead to 34-14. 

With four minutes remaining in the final quarter, Ponte Vedra was able to break through the Bobcats’ defense to make the game 34-21.

The Sharks got the ball back and threatened to mount a comeback, but it was too little too late. Buchholz safety Rj Livingston grabbed the Bobcats’ third interception of the game to seal the win. 

On To The Region Championship

The Bobcats know their next opponent well, as they played Bartram Trail on Oct. 19 and won handily, 44-7.

However, Buchholz coach Chuck Bell knows the playoff atmosphere will make this matchup different.

“That was a total outlier … their kids are gonna be fired up, their coaches are gonna be fired up,” Bell said. “We’re just gonna hope to have a good plan to play Bartram [Trail].”

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