If Matanzas is to beat Flagler Palm Coast in the Potato Bowl for the first time in seven years, it will have to beware of the elephant and not underestimate the flag football player.
On paper, the Pirates won last year as the rivalry game was one of four contests the Bulldogs forfeited after self-reporting an ineligible player. But on the muddy, drenched FPC turf, the Bulldogs rolled to a 41-6 victory. Matanzas did not throw a pass in the game as it tried out a triple-option offense a week after quarterback Dakwon Evans fractured his collarbone.
On Friday, Sept. 15, at Matanzas, both teams expect a close game for the first time since the Pirates last won on the field in 2016. Matanzas is 2-0 for the first time since the 2016 season. The Pirates had hoped to be 3-0 this week, but their Sept. 8 game at Deltona was postponed because of unplayable field conditions.
FPC is 1-1. After struggling in its season opener at Suwannee on Aug. 25, the Bulldogs defeated Orlando Bishop Moore 28-14 in the their home opener on Sept. 8. An early bye week came at a perfect time. The Bulldogs apparently have found their starting quarterback. They also found a charging elephant that is hard to stop.
Defensive end Colby Cronk, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, lined up at tailback behind 225-pound running back Marcus Mitchell and the biggest offensive and defensive linemen on the team in the “elephant formation” and scored three touchdowns of 4, 4 and 7 yards.
“It was certainly fun and awesome,” Cronk said. “I'm always on defense and being on offense, actually having the ball in my hands, is kind of different. I've done it in Pop Warner, but not in high school.”
Offensive coordinator Jake Medlock said the formation was designed by his father, Ricky Medlock, when the elder Medlock was an assistant coach at Fletcher High School. The Bulldogs installed it after they were stopped on fourth and goal against Suwannee, Jake Medlock said.
“My dad came up with the formation years ago. It’s, go have fun tackling 6-4, 250. It’s right up the middle. If you can stop those guys, I’ll (tip) my hat off to you. That’s what I want us to be known for. We're going to be all spread all over the yard, but on third and short, fourth and short, we're getting elephant. Hopefully the fans will start buying the old (plastic) horns, just how we did it at Fletcher and how we did it at Sandalwood. You hear elephant, and everyone starts going crazy.”
Daniel Fish, the Bulldogs’ first-year head coach, said the formation was even more successful than they had anticipated.
“Colby’s a guy who’s never going to quit,” Fish said. “So you're going to need all 11 to get him. We brought in some other big bodies to get in front of him and clear the way. So, that’s a package you'll see on goal line and short yardage situations going forward. And we’ve got a lot of faith in it.”
FROM FLAG FOOTBALL TO FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
The Bulldogs also have a lot of faith in senior quarterback Caden Gonzalez, who played in his first tackle football game in the spring.
In his first regular-season start, Gonzalez completed eight of 15 passes for 120 yards against Bishop Moore. Mikhail Zysek caught seven of the passes for 112 yards. Zysek’s 20-yard catch on third down set up Cronk’s third touchdown of the game, a 7-yard run behind the big bodies.
“I've been playing with (Zysek) since flag (football), so me and him have that chemistry,” Gonzalez said. “I rolled out and hit him. He saw me pointing my finger to start moving up instead of blocking. So, he started running up and I was able to give him a nice throw, and he made a great catch.”
Gonzalez has been playing flag football since he was 6 years old. His parents would not allow him or older brother Landon to play tackle football until high school. Caden’s high school career got sidetracked with injuries and eligibility issues, he said. He missed his junior season due to knee surgery.
He discovered that the differences between flag and tackle football are much more than getting hit.
You got the helmet on, so it's harder to see things. You got people coming at you. In flag, usually they send one person and they're about seven yards away. Tackle is way more intense. But I love playing under the lights.”
— CADEN GONZALEZ, FPC quarterback
“You got the helmet on, so it's harder to see things,” he said. “You got people coming at you. In flag, usually they send one person and they're about seven yards away. Tackle is way more intense. But I love playing under the lights.”
Caden’s father, Rick Gonzalez, who coached both of his sons in flag football, said he and his wife were both nervous about them playing tackle before high school. Landon, a receiver who graduated in 2022, played four years for the Bulldogs.
“I think they learned the game a lot better playing flag because they’re playing both sides on offense and defense,” Rick said. “So mentally, both the boys were prepared.”
Caden was the only eligible quarterback on the roster for the spring game and helped the Bulldogs win playing in his first tackle football game. Competing against three other quarterbacks in the preseason, he started in the kickoff classic and turned the ball over on FPC’s first two possessions. He didn’t get on the field again until the fourth quarter against Suwannee. With the senior at the helm, the Bulldogs started moving the chains.
“He performed really well towards the end of that game,” Fish said. “We saw something in him, and the guys were really gravitating towards him. In the bye week, he really kind of solidified himself as the one. It was still competitive this week (before the Bishop Moore game), but he kind of ran away with it.”
Gonzalez said he heard the chatter after the kickoff classic, and that motivated him to work harder.
“Yeah, it really hit me,” he said. “It made me want to push more, so I started working harder, watching more film and talking to my coaches. And I've been staying determined. Tonight's game, it was really fun.”
“There’s one thing about Caden,” Medlock said. “He’s not a quitter. I have tested him on so many levels, and he has responded every time.”
Medlock said they only asked Gonzalez to manage the game. The Bulldogs primarily relied on their running game in the win. They ran for 267 yards, with Mitchell running for 145 yards on 25 carries and freshman Ehimen Ajide (known to his teammates as He-man) rushing for 87 yards on 10 carries, including a 14-yard touchdown run.
The defense did its part, with Cronk notching a game-high 12 tackles and recording two key third-quarter sacks.
“It was a monster game for him,” Fish said. “We have the utmost faith in Colby. He's our leader on and off the field. We know whatever we ask him to do, he's going to do it to the best of his ability.”