There will be a new Class 3S state football champion on Dec. 7. And Mainland is one of four teams left contending for the title.
The Buccaneers, who lost to Lake Wales 32-30 in the championship game last year, have dedicated this season to getting back to the final and taking care of unfinished business.
Mainland is now one win away from returning to the title game. The Bucs dispatched Sebring 35-14 in the Region 3-3S final on Nov. 24 at Daytona Stadium to advance to the state semifinals.
They will host Ocala Vanguard on Friday, Dec. 1, for a spot in the Class 3S championship scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 7, at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee. The Vanguard-Mainland winner will play either St. Augustine or Dunbar.
Vanguard (11-2) drubbed reigning state champ Lake Wales 52-15 on Nov. 24. Fred Gaskin threw four touchdown passes for the Knights, avenging a 40-0 loss to the Highlanders in the playoffs last year and ending Lake Wales’ 27-game winning streak. Vanguard was also the last team to beat Lake Wales on Nov. 19, 2021.
The Bucs, seeded second in Class 3S behind St. Augustine, improved to 12-1. D.J. Murray tossed touchdown passes to Phillip Moore and Tyree Weatherspoon. Rodney Hill ran for two touchdowns, and Khamani Robinson also rushed for a touchdown.
Robinson’s 9-yard score gave the Bucs a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Sebring tied the score early in the second quarter on Travis Kearney’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Michael Perry. But the Bucs went on to score four unanswered touchdowns in the second and third quarters to put the game away.
Vanguard will be playing in its first state semifinal since 1994 when quarterback Daunte Culpepper led the Knights to the Class 5A state championship game in Daytona Beach.
Vanguard was down 19-0 to Bradenton Southeast in the final before scoring 17 unanswered points. But the Knights missed the potential game-winning field goal to fall 19-17 to the Seminoles in one of the most exciting championship games played in Daytona.