Shortly after 10 p.m. on November 28, 2014, the season’s last high school football game in Northeast Florida came to a close. After more than three months, it’s finally over. Four teams in Northeast Florida (Bishop Kenny, First Coast, Oakleaf, and White) and two in Southeast Georgia (Charlton County and Glynn Academy) tumbled out of the knockout playoffs. The two that survived, private-school powers Bolles and Trinity Christian, both advance directly to the state finals next week in Orlando. So for the first week of December, for the first time since the scorching heat of August, the Friday night lights across the area will dim and the boisterous crowds will fall silent.
Oakleaf High School typified the scene. The Knights, who reached the playoffs for the first time in school history and started the season 12-0, couldn’t create any offense in a 35-0 shutout at the hands of defending state runner-up Niceville. Once the clock struck zero, fans began to stream out of the stadium, some of them for the last time. Within about thirty minutes, the nearly-abandoned parking lot had only a couple of police cars and the occasional stray piece of litter.
The season may have ended, but the memories will remain for a lifetime. For the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen on squads across the area, today marks day one in the next task: preparing for the next season. That means hours of hard work and hard study, time in the weight room and the film room with an eye on ensuring that the 2015 season lasts longer than the 2014 edition did. The next kickoff, after all, arrives in 37 weeks.