A 3-0 early deficit was all that was needed to wake up the West Florida Jaguars.
The host Jags soon rose in a fury, knowing full well what was at stake on their home turf Friday night.
The offense lit up the field by ground and air, and the defense denied any real threat the Bay Tornadoes tried to muster en route to a 44-9 victory at Marlon L. Bullock Stadium.
West Florida (5-2, and now 2-0 in district play) soon answered the field goal with a touchdown, as Jaylen Allen plunged in from a yard out and Taylor Lopes notched the point after to make it 7-3 with 6:54 left in the first quarter.
Bay managed a strong drive on its next possession, but was halted by a tough Jag defense and was forced to kick another field goal.
But the floodgates soon opened, and West Florida clawed its way to a score on nearly every opportunity.
“I liked the effort of our guys — they came out and threw a lot of different looks at us, and luckily our guys did a good job of handling that and just adjusted on the run and made some big plays,” West Florida head coach Harry Lees said. “We just had to settle down. It was a big district ballgame that we had to have. If not, if they had won it, they were going to win the district. So we had to make sure we were at the top of our game, and our guys played well.
“We’re just approaching this as a three-week run at the playoffs. I really like the way our guys finished. Earlier in the season, that kind of got us in trouble a little bit, but last two weeks we’ve done a really good job finishing, so I’m proud of the way they’ve stepped up.”
Bay fumbled a punt late in the first quarter, and West Florida soon capitalized as a wide open Damond Johnson came down with a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch from Erik Antoine for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 14-6 Jags following Lopes’s extra point.
West Florida soon found paydirt again following a Bay punt — this time on a deep connection from Antoine to Keyshawn Helton in stride for a 44-yard score with 8:45 left in the half.
The swarming Jag defense was relentless all night, attacking the quarterback for multiple sacks and stuffing the ground game.
That made Antoine and company’s lives much easier offensively.
“I wasn’t expecting this turnout for us, but we wanted it bad enough — we want the district championship even more,” Antoine said. “It was amazing — our offense was going, and our defense went hard tonight. Our defense is amazing, and our defensive line is probably the best part of it. The connection with us and our receivers was really working tonight as well as our running game.”
The home team forced a fumble on a quarterback hit on Bay’s next drive, and Demarcus Trimble recovered to put the ball near midfield.
Allen churned up yardage with his punishing running style, breaking several tackles on one play for 27 yards, then moved to the 9-yard line before Jordan Jones ran one in to make it 28-6.
It was more hard-nosed bruising rushing by Allen on the Jags’ next series, before Antoine found Helton again in the air — Helton came back for the lofted pass, then was pushed, but still came down with a leaping grab and broke free for a 40-yard touchdown to put the game well out of reach.
Following a late second-quarter field goal by Bay, it was all Jaguars in the second half. Much of the fourth quarter was played with a running clock.
Fittingly, West Florida’s stud defensive lineman Adarius McWilliams capped off the game’s scoring with a safety on a sack.
“It felt really good — I just got down really quick and bull-rushed. It’s just great to have a great secondary and linebackers behind you,” McWilliams said. “The first thing I thought of when I got it was my grandma. That was a good game. Our offensive line did a good job and Jalen (Allen) came back and scored twice.
“My partners in crime, (Vidal) Scott and Antonio (Moultrie) — the big three — we’re taking over the city. We just came out strong and played hard, the West Florida way.”