Football: Top games and matchups to watch during the first week of the FHSAA playoffs

Jon Santucci
The Ledger

Here we go. 

The next month-plus will be an all-out sprint toward the state championship games in Tallahassee (Classes 3A-1A) and Fort Lauderdale (Classes 8A-4A). 

More:Santucci: Want to improve the FHSAA's RPI system? Don't give district champs a top-4 seed

As always, the first round of the FHSAA playoffs is a mixed bag of appealing matchups and potential mismatches. At least, that's how things look on paper. Fortunately, these games aren't played on paper.

Here's a look at the top games and recruiting matchups to watch on Thursday and Friday. 

Lake Gibson's Jaylon Glover bolts past a Bartow defender Jordy Lowery during the matchup in October. Both Lake Gibson and Bartow made the Class 7A, Region 2 playoffs.

Game of the week

(5) Lakeland vs. (4) Lake Gibson 

This Region 2-7A quarterfinal game is a rematch of the District 5 game, which Lake Gibson won 38-32 on Sept. 17. The Braves raced out to a 21-0 lead and held on for the win. Lake Gibson running back Jaylon Glover (Utah commit) had 34 carries for 285 yards and five touchdowns. Since then, Lakeland (9-1) has gone undefeated with wins against playoff teams Apopka, Bartow and Lakewood and finished with the highest RPI in the region. Lake Gibson (6-3) lost to playoff team Sarasota Riverview the week after beating Lakeland, but are taking a four-game win streak into the playoffs. Lake Gibson was a regional finalist in 2020 and Lakeland was a regional semifinal last year. Only one of these rivals will reach the regional semifinals this year. 

More:Fuoco: Lake Gibson survives for 'legacy win' over Lakeland

Best games by seed

(1) Pine Forest vs. (8) Rickards

A Region 1-6A quarterfinal featuring a Pine Forest team on an eight-game win streak against a Rickards team that was in the Class 5A state championship game last season. It certainly doesn't feel like a first-round game, but here we are. Pine Forest fell 21-14 to West Florida in the season opener but have been dominant since with only one game decided by fewer than 20 points. Rickards is 6-4, but played a slightly tougher schedule. The Raiders' losses are at Bartram Trail and Mosely and at home against Lincoln and Madison County. 

More:USA Today Florida Network's FHSAA Class 6A football playoff preview

Martin County hosts Jensen Beach in a high school football game on Friday Nov. 5, 2021, in Stuart. Martin County won 31-7, completing their regular season undefeated.

(2) Martin County vs. (7) Viera

The Tigers and Hawks, who meet in the Region 2-7A semifinals, were district rivals — and playoff opponents — for several years before Martin County was moved into a more southern district. Martin County has never beaten Viera in the postseason. This time though, the Tigers are undefeated (8-0) and have not trailed at all this season. Martin County's defense has allowed just 53 points this season. Viera is 5-4, but played a much tougher schedule (the Hawks opponent's win percentage was .653 compared to the Tigers' .403). The losses are against Cocoa (No. 1 team in Class 4A), Melbourne (district champion), Merritt Island (district champion) and Rockledge (No. 1 at-large team in Region 2-5A). The Hawks will be Martin County's toughest test to date.

More:USA Today Florida Network's FHSAA Class 7A football playoff preview

Other 2 vs. 7 game to watch: Raines vs. Parker (Region 1-5A), Lehigh vs. Gaither (Region 3-7A)

Mainland QB Jonathan Campbell looks to pass during a game with New Smyrna Beach at New Smyrna Beach Sports Complex, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

(3) Jones vs. (6) Mainland

Another district rematch. (Noticing a trend here?) The fact that Jones is a No. 3 seed and Mainland is a No. 6 seed just speaks to the depth in Region 2-6A. Jones beat Mainland 33-21 in a District 6 game on Oct. 15. Jones led 20-0 in the first quarter, but Mainland's defense forced three turnovers and made this a one-score game in the second half. Jones had more than 500 yards of total offense in the first matchup -- including 346 on the ground. It will be interesting to see what adjustments Mainland makes on defense now they've played the Tigers once before.

More:USA Today Florida Network's FHSAA Class 6A football playoff preview

Other 3 vs. 6 games to watch: Apopka vs. Creekside (Region 1-8A), Gainesville vs. Lincoln (Region 1-6A), Community School of Naples vs. Evangelical Christian (Region 3-2A), Holmes County vs. Freeport (Region 1-1A)

Columbia's Marcus Peterson looks in the huddle as Kade Jackson calls a play during the Tigers' 28-26 victory against Riverside

(4) Columbia vs. (5) Riverside

These two. Again. Another Region 1-6A quarterfinal. This is the third time in four years that Columbia and Riverside are meeting in the postseason. Riverside won both of them in dramatic fashion. The final score was 31-27 in 2018. In that game, the Generals led 31-7 before watching the Tigers mount a furious rally that fell just short. In 2019, four scoreless quarters ended with a 6-3 double-overtime result for Riverside. More drama this season as Riverside led 26-7 only to watch Columbia score 21 unanswered in the fourth quarter. No matter the score Friday, no lead will be safe until the final whistle.

More:Pick Six: Columbia claws past Riverside in the Backyard in high school football Week 7

Other 4 vs. 5 games to watch: Coconut Creek vs. South Fork Myers (Region 4-6A), Northview vs. Bozeman (Region 1-1A)

Individual matchups featuring top recruits 

Riverside cornerback Jaheim Singletary (1) is pictured after a high school football preseason kickoff classic against Bartram Trail on August 20, 2021. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]

Columbia 2022 WR Marcus Peterson vs. Riverside 2022 CB Jahiem Singletary 

Peterson (No. 78 USA Today Florida Network midseason top 100, Cincinnati commit) is one of the top big-play receivers in the state. The 6-foot-2, 197-pounder had five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown against Riverside earlier this season. Singletary (No. 2 midseason top 100) is one of the premier cornerbacks in the nation and has the size and speed to matchup physically with Peterson. Singletary had two interceptions when the teams met in October. 

More:Who are Florida's best high school football recruits? Here's USA Today Florida's Top 100 seniors

Matt McCoy at practice

Creekside 2022 OT Matt McCoy vs. Apopka 2023 DE/OLB Kaven Call 

On Sept. 19, McCoy didn't have any offers. Fast forward seven weeks and he's picked up 15, including Florida, Florida State, Miami, Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound McCoy doesn't just have size, but he also moves well. Call is one of the top juniors in the state, with offers from Georgia, Florida State, Penn State, Tennessee and others. Apopka has used Call as an edge rusher and also dropped him into coverage, but keep a close eye when he faces off against McCoy.

More:RISING RECRUITS: These Florida players caught colleges' attention in football's first half

Fleming Island Golden Eagles running back Sam Singleton (25) runs for yardage in the first half action of the FHSAA Region 1-7A high school semifinals between Fleming Island and Atlantic Coast high schools Friday, November 27, 20f his20 at Fleming Island High School in Jacksonville, Florida. [Stan Badz/Special to The Florida Times-Union]

Fleming Island 2023 RB Samuel Singleton vs. Buchholz 2023 DE Gavin Hill

Singleton and Hill are two of the top recruits in the Class of 2023. The speedy Singleton, who missed the past two games because of a concussion, had 927 yards and nine touchdowns and averaged 6.7 yards per carry during the regular season. Singleton's offers include Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan State and Tennessee. Hill (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and Bobcats sophomore defensive lineman Kendall Jackson, are a big reason why Buchholz is allowing just 7.3 points per game this season. Hill has offers from Georgia Tech, UCF, Vanderbilt and others.

Lehigh's Richard Young gains yards for the Lightening. Dunbar rolled over Lehigh Acres 17-0 in their end of the season matchup, Friday, November, 5, 2021.

Additional matchups to watch: Lake Gibson 2022 RB Jaylon Glover (Utah commit) vs. Lakeland 2022 DE Keahnist Thompson (UCF commit), Bartram Trail 2022 RB Eric Weatherly (Duke commit) vs. Lake Brantley 2023 LBs Andrew and Michael Harris, Lehigh 2023 RB Richard Young vs. Gaither 2022 DE Mario Eugenio, Mainland 20203 WR James Randle vs. Jones 2022 CB Stephen Sparrow, Carrollwood Day 2024 RB Anthony Carrie vs. Tampa Catholic 2023 ATH Lewis Carter