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Dixie County football game moved to Thursday

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Cross City-Dixie County Bears (4-0) at Chiefland Indians (1-2), Thursday Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Chiefland at Jasper-Hamilton County (0-1), Tuesday Sept. 26, 7 p.m.

By Sean Arnold

If all goes as planned, Chiefland will have a busy six days before its bye date next Friday.

The Indians moved their home game against undefeated Dixie County from Friday to Thursday. If that game isn’t moved to Friday due to weather, they then will turn around and play a makeup game versus Hamilton County in Jasper the following Tuesday, Sept. 26.

The Hamilton game was originally cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.

Dixie County is one of the favorites from Region 1A-3 to make the playoffs, as its raced out to a 4-0 start, handing Union County and Trenton their only losses along the way. The Bears jumped ahead of the Tigers 27-14 by halftime, when a storm forced the game to end at that point.

DCHS is led by first-year head man Eric Richeson, who takes over for longtime head coach Brent Wilkerson. Wilkerson built the program into one of the elite of Class 1A, with multiple state final four appearances. Richeson was an offensive coordinator under Wilkerson.

This year’s Dixie County is built around its 17 seniors, including high average backs James Smith and Aaron Dawson, leading tackler Rhett Anderson, and a big line up front. Junior Carlos Williams Jr. leads the team in rushing and tackles for losses.

“They’re kids that have been in the fire, they know how to play,” first-year CMHS coach Adam Gore said. “They’re big and strong up front and they’ve got a few more scat backs, really quick backs, than what they normally have that do a really good job behind that offensive line,”“They get after it on defense too.”

Gore says Dixie County hasn’t changed much under Richeson.

“The foundation Brent (Wilkerson) laid at Dixie is still there and thriving,” he said. “They want to run the football and they want to play physical. Brent has brought them along, and Eric (Richeson) has the same type of philosophy.”

Gore, who got his first coaching job at Dixie County, says the Bears’ effort stands out the most.

“When we watch film (of Dixie County), that’s what I’m going to show them, to look at the consistent effort on every play. We want to ingrain into our kids to play with that type of effort, that type of physicality.

“Some years, you’re going to have better athletes than others, but when you can have that (effort and physical play), it takes care of a lot.”

Conditioning could be an issue after a long layoff from Hurricane Irma. Chiefland hasn’t played since Sept. 7, and missed at least a week of practice.

Dixie County is the culmination of a grueling opening stretch of games for Chiefland, which is likely to include at least three playoff teams, or at least playoff-caliber teams. Gore would’ve preferred more balance in the schedule for his young team, but he expects the competition to pay off eventually.

“We knew it was going to be like this early,” he said. “We talked about wishing we could flip the schedule and play the other half first and let us develop as a team and get there.”

Gore says the defense is looking to simplify some schemes for the secondary to help it play faster. The defense has struggled early in games, but mid-game adjustments have helped. The defensive line, led by standouts like Brandon Bowers, Dalton Tiner and B.C. Fehmerling, has been the most dominant unit, as promised.

The team has been better overall in the second half of games, which bothers Gore.

“With as many kids as we have, we tend to lean on people a little bit in the second half,” he said. “That’s one of my pet peeves, (being a second-half team), it’s almost like we’re testing the waters (in the first half).”

Between the new staff and new players, finding the right combination of personnel on the field has been a challenge, he says. Gore says the younger players are often picking up the schemes faster than the older players.

Most of all, Gore wants to see better mental focus from his team, which has been plagued with turnovers and penalties. The offense was approaching 300 yards rushing against Lafayette, but coughed the ball up four times, turning it over on three of the fumbles. Gore calls them mental mistakes.

“There are serious issues there,” he said. “That’s got to be addressed, big time. We’re probably losing two or three drives a game to fumbles alone. You ask every back how to carry the football, and they know. We go through it in practice, yet those same mistakes occur.

“There will be some joyous activities to take the place of those mental mistakes,” he added with a smile, in reference to the punishments players might face for committing miscues from a lack of effort and focus.

“We’re to the point now, three games into the season, where you’ve got to be accountable.”

While the varsity faces Dixie County, the JV will be in Bell for a 5 p.m. kickoff (Sept. 21). The JV suffered its first loss, 24-0, Tuesday, Sept. 19, in a makeup game game against Branford.

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Hurricane Irma forced a major scrambling of the high school footbal schedules around the state. Chiefland and Hamilton County have managed to salvalge their meeting, as they'll play the Tuesday of the Indians' bye week, on Sept. 26.

While Chiefland moved its game against Mayo-Lafayette up a day during the run-up to Irma, the Trojans saw their scheduled game against Live Oak-Suwannee postponed, leaving the Trojans with just one official complete game heading into their tilt with CMHS.

During the prior week, Chiefland escaped with a 7-0 win over Branford in one half of football before thunderstorms halted play, while Hamilton County lost 7-6 in a weather-shortened game at The Villages.

In their only completed game on the regular season, the Trojans were held to 86 total yards against Baldwin in the opener, which included 33 rushing yards on 38 carries. They also tossed a pair of interceptions on five passing attempts, while BHS racked up 304 passing yards, and 474 total.

Baldwin, which competes in Class 3A, finished 7-4 in 2016, but has suffered blowout losses to Class 4A Bradford and Dixie County this season. It defeated HCHS 48-8 in August.

Hamilton is the first squad on Chiefland’s roster that’s not overwhelmingly senior-laden. The Indians have shown an improved knack for big plays this year, and they’ve usually gotten better in the second half of games. Improved depth and added playmakers are helping in that department, as well as a more versatile look on offense.

But the experience gap eventually rears its head, whether its not remaining disciplined in assignments, turning the ball over in the backfield, or committing costly penalties.

CMHS coach Adam Gore has said he wants to see his team convert on more of its scoring opportunities, which means avoiding some of the aforementioned shortcomings. The Indians have showed their fight in falling behind to Trenton and Lafayette, and enough manpower on offense to make comeback runs, but the deficits and mistakes ultimately prove to much to overcome.

The short week before the Lafayette game affected the team’s preparation for the Hornets’ run/pass option plays, and this game will be another challenge as it comes just five days -- and three school days -- after Chiefland's meeting with Dixie County.

These schools share a region (1A-3) under the new no-districts format, but the result won’t be weighted any more than non-region games. Ultimately, wins and strength of opponent records count the most.

However, Chiefland will get three bonus points for the fact that Hamilton County was a playoff team last year. The Trojans finished 4-6, but picked up the win the counted most — a 17-0 defeat of Lafayette — to make the playoffs with a 3-1 district mark. They lost 34-12 to Fort White in the regional semifinals. FWHS then lost to Madison County 21-17 in the regional finals.

Hamilton County advanced to the Class 1A state championship game in 2014.