Florence Playoff Win is Twice as Nice

6 months ago Andrew Luberda 0

Last Saturday’s first-round 3A State Championship playoff game between No. 6-seed Florence and No. 11 Blue Ridge was not the first meeting between the teams this season but the result was the same.

The Gophers, who defeated the Yellow Jackets 41 – 16 on Sept. 15, advanced to the state quarterfinals following a 40 – 27 win, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate.

“They made some adjustments to us (since the first game),” Florence head coach Scott Howard said after the game. “We sputtered a little on the first series, but I’m proud of our guys.”

Florence twins Shelton and Shane Mathis each scored a touchdown in addition to combining for 25 tackles on defense. Shelton scored the Gophers’ first touchdown of the game on a one-yard run in the first quarter. Shane’s 42-yard pick-six in the third quarter increased the Gophers’ lead to 26 – 7.

“It was great,” Shane said about the play, which was his first career touchdown in four games played against the Yellow Jackets. “I have to hand it to the guys blocking for me, they made it happen.”

Josh Maignan (21) returns a kickoff during last Friday’s playoff victory. Photo: Kelli Luberda/CountyLinePreps.com

Sophomore Joshua Maignan also starred for the Gophers, finishing with 216 yards of offense, including 63 rushing yards on five carries and seven receptions for 153 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

Maignan’s 75-yard touchdown catch and run from senior quarterback Jared Wood increased the Gophers’ lead to 13 – 0 near the end of the first quarter. Later, his 38-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes remaining put the game out of reach for Blue Ridge.

“We expected that from them,” said Howard, speaking about the trio of Shelton, Shane and Josh. “They work hard and they’ve been a big part of our team for a long time now.”

Howard acknowledged that his team left some plays on the field, which could have resulted in a more one-sided final score. Blue Ridge scored a couple of meaningless touchdowns once the Gophers held a commanding lead and the regular starters were lifted.

With the win, Florence will play at No. 3 Casteel on Friday night in Queen Creek.

Josh Maignan’s 38-yard TD run sealed last Friday’s wion. Photo: Kelli Luberda/CountyLinePreps.com

The Gophers may have turned their attention elsewhere with last Friday’s final result no longer in doubt.

“I think our kids were peeking ahead,” Howard admitted. “I think that accounts for some of the flatness, and it’s difficult to beat the same team twice.”

Casteel, which has received some criticism during the season for running up scores, is facing arguably its toughest opponent to date in the Gophers. The Colts have scored 629 points while only allowing 51, most of those numbers against significantly inferior opponents.

“We’re excited,” Howard said about the quarterfinal matchup. “Two really good teams coming together. We’re going to challenge them, probably for the first time they have been all year.”

Florence may have been looking ahead, but it can’t look past the undefeated Colts.

“We have it in our minds that they haven’t faced a team like ours,” Shelton Mathis said, “They’re going to have to come out and play their best game or we’re going to take it to them.”

Friday’s kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.