After weeks of hitting each other in camps and preseason practices, Mainland unleashed a barrage of energy against Matanzas in the kickoff classic at Daytona Stadium on Friday, Aug. 18. The Bucs tested “Operation Get Back” with a 42-0 win against the Pirates.
“We are excited about the future,” Mainland head coach Travis Roland said. “I’m just glad the kids came out here with a lot of energy. That’s the part I want to see. And we’re physical. We look big, but I want to make sure we play big.”
The Bucs’ defense held Matanzas to minimal yardage in the first few minutes of the game, forcing a fourth down kick. E’zaiah Shine returned near the 30-yard line, where quarterback Dennis Murray Jr. took over with a handoff to Rodney Hill, who bulldozed his way up the middle. A long pass to wide receiver Marquis McCants sealed the first touchdown of the game with 9:13 remaining in the first quarter.
“I saw leadership in my quarterbacks,” Roland said. “They made the right decisions and didn’t put us in any bad situations. That’s the biggest piece of the quarterback — taking care of the football.”
In my opinion, you want to get a really tough opponent or somebody that’s going to challenge and see where your program is at. It’s always a good test to play teams like that especially for your kickoff classic. It gets you ready for the regular season."
— Matt Forrest, Matanzas head football coach
Matanzas hosted Mainland last year for the kickoff classic which started the teams’ two-year contract. Pirates head coach Matt Forrest said they would like to continue to play against the Buccaneers.
“In my opinion, you want to get a really tough opponent or somebody that’s going to challenge and see where your program is at,” he said. “It’s always a good test to play teams like that, especially for your kickoff classic. It gets you ready for the regular season.”
Quarterback Jackson Lundahl started for the Pirates. He played in seven games last season after starter Dakwon Evans broke his collarbone. Forrest said he wants to work with Lundahl to get him more comfortable and increase his confidence level while Evans recovers from a wrist injury. Forrest said he’s taking no chances with his starting quarterback.
“I feel like our offensive line has come a long way since last season,” Forrest said. “I think they gave us some time to throw the football. I have to do some things within our offense to make him (Lundahl) feel a little bit more comfortable. I use the NASCAR reference — try to get him in clean air. If we get him in dirty air, back in the pack, he doesn’t perform as well. I’m going to try to get him some clean air — do some things from a protection standpoint to make him feel like he’s in the front.”
Murray and Jhavin “Bubba” Westbrook — Mainland running backs coach Arthur Westbrook’s son — both had pick sixes for the Bucs. Defensive back Zavier Mincey said those were his favorite plays of the game.
“It was good to see my teammates make plays,” he said. “Really, I just want to encourage them. For some of them, it’s their first time out here, and they have jitters. I want to help them build their confidence by running drills and stuff. Ya’ll boys just keep grinding, your time is going to come.”
Mincey has close to 40 college offers. He has not made a decision yet but has a top-four list: the University of Florida, Florida State, Miami and Alabama.
Mainland safety Eli Gilyard transferred from Flagler Palm Coast High School and is thankful to be welcomed by his new teammates. He has been playing football since he was 4 and comes from a family of athletes, including an uncle who plays professional football.
“Really, we just played as a team and played as a brotherhood,” he said. “We did not take them (Matanzas) lightly. (This season), everybody needs to buy into the system to try to go back to states.”
Roland said he is excited for the new season to start.
“We’re excited and hope that Daytona Beach continues to come out and support us,” he said. “Operation Get Back to Fort Lauderdale (for the state championship game) starts (this) week.”
Mainland kicks off the season at DeLand on Friday, Aug. 25, as Matanzas takes a two-hour trip to South Lake High School in Groveland.