Mandarin football is racking up the mileage — and the victories — like never before.
After knocking off Winter Park, Lake Mary and Sanford Seminole in consecutive trips along the Interstate 4 corridor, the Mustangs face an even longer Friday night journey — to Coconut Creek Monarch, in Broward County — to become Northeast Florida's first team ever to win four road football playoffs in a single postseason.
Since the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 4M playoffs began Nov. 10, the Mustangs have won in one trip after another: roughly a 260-mile round trip to Winter Park, around 240 to and from Lake Mary, then about the same to Sanford Seminole.
In terms of travel, that was just a warm-up. Mandarin's round trip will cover some 600 miles to first-time semifinalist Monarch, located only about 6 miles north of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
The mileage changes. But against the odds, the winning remains constant, most recently with three takeaways — a fumble recovery and two interceptions, the last in the end zone as time expired — by Super 11 cornerback A.J. Belgrave-Shorter.
The list of Northeast Florida teams to win three consecutive road playoff games is short. Really short.
The most recent was Bolles, in 2020, under unusual circumstances. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the FHSAA selected brackets and home field assignments at random, and the Bulldogs won at The Villages (44-14), Fernandina Beach (35-7) and South Sumter (42-7) on the road to the Class 4A semifinals.
Bolles also achieved the feat in 2014, after finishing as District 3-4A runner-up to Raines. The Bulldogs won 63-0 at Umatilla, beat Raines 20-13 in their rematch and then invaded Boot Hill for a 34-15 win at Madison County, eventually losing the final to Miami Booker T. Washington.
In 1997, Trinity Christian marked its first deep playoff run with wins at Keystone Heights (49-7) and South Sumter (69-27), followed by the big one, a 31-28 victory over Union County that ended the 52-game winning streak of the Fightin' Tigers. Taylor County eventually denied Trinity in the semifinal.
For Gateway Conference teams, the most celebrated road warrior tale belongs to Fletcher in 2011. The Senators marched through the 2011 Class 7A regionals with wins at Lake Brantley (28-14), DeLand (24-7) and Timber Creek (31-27) before Tampa Plant ended their run in the semifinal. Fletcher also won its first two playoffs on the road in 2012 and 2013.
Receivers top 1,000-yard mark
Something else to file under the "like never before" heading: the passing game in Northeast Florida.
Three receivers on the First Coast surpassed 1,000 yards for the season last week: Bolles' Naeem Burroughs (now at 1,001), Mandarin's Jaime Ffrench Jr. (now at 1,048) and St. Augustine's Carl Jenkins Jr. (now at 1,016).
Add Nease's Maddox Spencer and Zarephath Academy's Joshua Jones, who had already cleared 1,000 in the regular season, and Northeast Florida can claim five of Florida's top 30 in the statewide MaxPreps list.
The scariest thing for defenses: All five of the aforementioned receivers have one or more high school seasons to go. So do many other area standouts, including Bishop Kenny's J.P. Donovan and Kaleb Lampkins, Bolles' Chase Collier, Creekside's Kaleb Taylor-Burch, First Coast's Adron Walker, Fleming Island's Trace Burney, Nease's Brayden Felder, Oakleaf's Mike Conner, Riverside's Tae'shaun Gelsey and Myles Kendrick, St. Augustine's Trenton Jones and Somourian Wingo, Tocoi Creek's Julio Santiago and White's Nick Roberson.
Look out, defensive coordinators: Jacksonville's age of the receiver is here.
From the quarterback side, more passing than ever are hitting the 4,000-yard career mark, which was long rare territory — Alan Hall's 5,488 at Middleburg from 1987 to 1990 stood as the area record before Tim Tebow arrived on the scene. Mandarin junior Tramell Jones, now up to 6,360, has left Hall's mark behind with a year to spare.
Jones isn't alone above 4,000: That group also includes Bishop Kenny's James Resar (4,756), Yulee's Nikao Smith (4,549), Bartram Trail's Riley Trujillo (4,437), First Coast's Rodney Tisdale Jr. (4,402), Fletcher's Marcelis Tate (4,068) and still-going prospects including Trinity Christian's Colin Hurley (5,739), St. Augustine's Locklan Hewlett (4,588), and Bolles' DJ Moore (4,161).
Plus, juniors Sean Ashenfelder of Creekside, Cibastian Broughton of Fleming Island and Jordan Durham of Zarephath are among those with a year left to further increase their passing numbers.
Harvest hoops hits triple figures
Looking for fireworks on the basketball court? Look no further than Harvest Community, a small school in the middle of some big scores in the early going.
Harvest won its season opener 101-62, a rare venture into triple digits in today's high school hoops, against Southside Christian of Waycross, Georgia. The Warriors' Sean Murphy (30 points, 10 3-pointers), Isaiah Bunso (16), Adam Lawson (16) and Adrian Walker (15) each scored in double figures in the opener. Their second game also scored high, a 83-79 loss to Global Outreach Charter.
"A lot of small schools when they're good, they only have four or five different players [that are good]," head coach Dave Meddings said. "We've got about 9 or 10 that can really play, and that makes a big difference."
The Warriors set a new school record last year with 20 wins, missing the playoffs by less than a point in the Florida High School Athletic Association's ranking system.
In an attempt to prevent that from repeating, Harvest has bulked up its schedule, playing what Meddings called a "6A schedule" that should boost the Warriors' strength-of-schedule component while also preparing them for the challenges to come.
"We're going to have to grow and we're going to have to do some things as well, additional practices and things like that, but I just think the culture has changed," Meddings said.
Nease's Ryan joins sub-15 club
Thanksgiving sidelined much of the sports schedule in Jacksonville, but Nease senior Matt Ryan still found a way to join the sub-15 club in cross country.
Ryan ran 14:56.09 at Saturday's Foot Locker Cross Country South Regional Championships at McAlpine Park in Charlotte, N.C., placing sixth behind Patrick Koon of Tallahassee Leon. With his top-10 finish, Ryan qualified for the Foot Locker National Finals on Dec. 9 at Balboa Park in San Diego.
He joins Colin Barker (Bishop Kenny, 2009), Jimmy Clark (Creekside, 2010), Charles Hicks (Bolles, 2018) and Rheinhardt Harrison (Nease, 2021) as Northeast Florida runners under the 15-minute mark.
Creekside sophomore Alyson Johnson also lowered her personal best at the same race, finishing in 17:49.29.
Bishop Kenny and Bolles also raced at the NXR Nationals at WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary, N.C. fewer than 72 hours after running in the FHSAA championships in Tallahassee.
The Bolles boys finished 12th against runners from across the Southeast, including a 15:41.70 from senior Chris Joost. The Bishop Kenny girls placed 19th in the championship field, led by Tessa Massa at 18:49.20, and Sofie Stam of Bolles ran 18:35.50 as an individual.
Holiday Cup soccer set for December
The annual Holiday Cup boys soccer doubleheader is scheduled for Dec. 21 at Nease. Mandarin plays Bishop Kenny at 5:30 p.m., followed by Nease against Creekside at 7:20 p.m.
Admission is free, but school officials will be collecting donations at the gate to benefit student outreach program Soaring High and the Ronald McDonald House.
The organizers are collecting blankets, stuffed animals and Walmart and Publix gift cards for Soaring High, and unused bedding for the Ronald McDonald House.
Providence to dedicate basketball gym
Providence is preparing to honor its longtime basketball coaches Gigi Bistrow and Jim Martin with the dedication of its new Bistrow-Martin Court inside the Barfield Gymnasium on Tuesday, Dec. 5.
Bistrow, with a career record of 515-296, has led the Stallions' girls basketball program since its start in 1997. Providence is coming off consecutive visits to the FHSAA final four.
Martin, in charge of the boys team since 2000, owns a 593-125 career record entering the season, winning three state championships with the Providence boys.
The ceremonies are scheduled for 6 p.m., immediately before Providence's scheduled home girls basketball game against Beachside.
Locals set for FACA cross country
Ten Northeast Florida athletes are among the scheduled competitors at the Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Classic for cross country is scheduled for Saturday morning in Lakeland.
Racing for the North boys team will be Alejandro Vinas from Bishop Kenny, DominicGeraci from Mandarin, John Syla from Stanton and Morgan Mobley from Suwannee.
The North girls team includes Emily Wheldon and Davis Johnson from Class 2A championBishop Kenny, Danielle Raulerson from Christ's Church, Ashlin Price and Arianna Vializfrom Mandarin and Madison Patchan from Tocoi Creek.
Around the area
Episcopal forward Nora Slack committed to Southern Maine women's soccer. … Ridgeview opposite hitter Harper Herring committed to Missouri Valley College volleyball. … Ponte Vedra infielder Dominic Masto committed to FSCJ baseball. … Bolles guard Abby Knauff scored her 1,000th career point in Wednesday's Insider Exposure Thanksgiving Classic for girls basketball. … Former Raines safety Treyvon Hobbs announced his plans to enter the transfer portal from Brown football. … Former Brunswick defensive back Devin Lafayette is entering the transfer portal from Northern Illinois football. ... Former Ware County running back Cartevious Norton is entering the transfer portal from Iowa State football. ... Orange Park setter Hailey Revak completed her high school career with a Raiders-record 1,635 assists. ... Former Mandarin wide receiver Kris Mitchell set a new single-season receiving record for Florida International football with 1,118 yards on 64 catches during Saturday's 41-28 loss to Western Kentucky. Former St. Augustine quarterback Austin Reed passed for 280 yards and four touchdowns to lead the visiting Hilltoppers' victory. ... Wild soccer: Keystone Heights scored nine second-half goals Monday to beat Newberry in boys soccer, 12-4. Arron Wiley led with five goals for Keystone, while Bryce Huntley and Noah Jaramillo each tallied hat tricks.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Mandarin High School football: FHSAA road playoff winning streak