Mainland is Tallahassee bound following its 34-12 win over Vanguard in the Class 3S semifinal on Friday, Dec. 1.
The Buccaneers are returning to the state championship game after last year’s crushing 32-30 loss to Lake Wales in the Class 3S final.
Mainland, the second seed in Class 3S, will meet No. 1 seed St. Augustine at 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee.
The Bucs began their drive to the playoffs on their first official practice day when head coach Travis Roland played seven minutes of footage from last year’s championship game. Their 13-1 record this season reflects the coaches’ and players’ response to last year's loss and their commitment to return to the state final.
“I’m just proud of these kids,” Roland said. “In 2021, we came (here) and these kids believed in me and the staff that we brought and put together. It’s worked.
Roland noted the Bucs have improved from 5-5 in 2021 to 11-4 last year and 13-1 this season.
“It’s been a journey and we’re grateful for it,” Roland said.
The Bucs have won four playoff games after losing to Lake Mary 33-0 in their final regular-season game. It was their only loss. Vanguard finished its season at 11-3 after the loss to the Bucs at Daytona Stadium.
“We have a great football team — they (Vanguard Knights) have a great football team,” Roland said. “We had to limit their explosive plays. We’ve worked our tails off to get our defense to the level they are.”
We’ll go out there and secure the job and get it done this time. We have to finish. Last year, we played a great football game, but we gave up some big plays. Next week, as long as we limit those explosives, we are going to be quite all right.” — TRAVIS ROLAND, Mainland football coach
Mainland rushed for 308 yards against the Knights with Khamani Robinson rushing for over 120 yards and Corey Hill contributing close to 100 yards.
Kicker Jacob Gettman put Mainland on the scoreboard with a 31-yard field goal after a 10-play drive in the first quarter and a 23-yard field goal 30 seconds before the half. Robinson broke free in the second quarter for a 32-yard touchdown run.
Quarterback D.J. Murray rushed for a 55-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter and sprinted 14 yards into the corner of the end zone at the end of the fourth.
“D.J. Murray is the ultimate leader,” Roland said. “He and (offensive lineman) Jerard Bell and the offensive line carried us tonight. They did a phenomenal job.”
Mainland held Vanguard's dual-threat quarterback, Fred Gaskin, to two touchdowns. The Bucs' defensive line tried to keep him in the pocket. Florida commit L.J. McCray, Dennis King III and Myron Shafer sacked Gaskin in the second quarter and McCray got him again in the third quarter. Florida defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong was there to watch the action.
Mainland defensive backs coach Tristan Wallace said the goals were to stop the quarterback from scrambling and make sure his players stayed attached and over the top of the Vanguard receivers.
“For the first half, we struggled a little bit with keeping them contained, but eventually we started figuring it out,” he said. “It’s good having two really good corners out wide to make them not to go inside. Zay Mincey is the leader of that secondary. He had some penalties early on, but he got it figured out.”
Cornerbacks Mincey and E’Zaiah Shine were instrumental in stopping Vanguard’s passing game. Shine had a 47-yard pick-six that jumpstarted the second half for Mainland. Mincey intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter that sealed the Bucs' win.
St. Augustine defeated Dunbar 35-14 in the other semifinal to improve to 13-0.
“I know that St. Augustine is really good on offense,” Wallace said. “I know they are really good at throwing the ball, so we have to stop their passing game.”
Roland said he is humbled by the experience. He appreciates the support the Daytona Beach community has shown his team and for believing in “family” — “forget about me, I love you.”
“We’ll go out there and secure the job and get it done this time,” Roland said. “We have to finish. Last year, we played a great football game, but we gave up some big plays. Next week, as long as we limit those explosives, we are going to be quite all right.”