Winter Haven at Victory Christian football 2

Being thankful for the opportunity to play a high school football game outweighed the importance of wins and losses.

Such was the case last week as the 2020 pandemic season kicked off across Polk County. And keeping games on the schedule represents a significant part of the battle when the goal is to adapt to life amid the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.

Some games were canceled last week – including Discovery High versus Tenoroc, as the Discovery campus remains closed until Sept. 21 per this writing – although Haines City added a game against Lake Gibson when the Braves lost their scheduled matchup with Zephyrhills.

That type of scenario will likely play out again over the following days and weeks.

The 2020 high school season comes on the heels of no spring football, altered summer workouts and a delayed start to fall camp (with no Kickoff Classic games) when the Florida High School Athletic Association voted to make Aug. 24 the first allowable practice date. Reduced attendance at games also factors into the equation as spectators are expected to follow a specific set of safety protocols.

Therefore, the regular season will serve as an extended preseason in most cases. No FHSAA district champions will be crowned this year, wins and losses hold no bearing on who earns a playoff spot, classifications (with the exception of Class 1A Rural) will be finalized once the number of schools opting into the playoffs is set and playoff seeds will be determined in late October by a blind draw.

The FHSAA Board of Directors established this Friday (Sept. 18) as the deadline for schools to opt out of the state series and several Polk County programs created a regular-season schedule through Nov. 6, which is one week before the start of the postseason.

The Sunshine State Athletic Conference’s 8-man Division – which includes All Saints’ Academy and Oasis Christian – would start its playoffs at the end of October.

Taking all that into account, here are some major takeaways from varsity football games played during a rainy Sept. 11:

* Frostproof made its debut under first-year head coach Rod McDowell and the Bulldogs emerged with a 28-26 victory over Mulberry High at Faris Brannen Stadium.

The Bulldogs built a 28-12 lead after three quarters as quarterback Nate Jenkins threw touchdown passes to DeAndre Knighten and Leonard Hamilton. Willie Knighten and Chris Gordon also added scoring runs of 10 and 11 yards, respectively.

* There were multiple shutouts on Friday as Bartow registered an 82-0 win over Lake Region and Auburndale blanked Pasco 33-0. On the other side of the coin: Haines City lost 82-0 to Lake Gibson, Fort Meade dropped a 14-0 decision to Hardee, and Akelynn’s Angels Christian Academy fell 24-0 to Clearwater American Collegiate Academy.

Bartow held a 61-0 halftime lead as quarterback Lin Johnson had a trio of touchdown passes and the Yellow Jackets recorded a pair of interception returns for scores. As for Auburndale, the Bloodhounds returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns against the visitors from Dade City and their impressive defense did the rest.

* Winter Haven opened the season at Southeastern University and fell 36-19 to Victory Christian Academy. Cornelius Shaw ran 20 times for 284 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Storm, who led 29-0 late in the third quarter.

The Blue Devils put together a better stretch over the final 13 minutes as Xavier Marlow posted a touchdown run in addition to catching a scoring pass from quarterback Tyler Williams.