Eagles one of 3 area teams in playoffs

Eagles one of 3 area teams in playoffs

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Eagles one of 3 area teams in playoffs

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It’s a powerful collision of the last two Class 2A state champions tonight when Jacksonville University Christian visits North Florida Christian in the second round of the FHSAA playoffs.

The Eagles defeated the Christians, 47-21, in 2011 on their way to the school’s seventh state title, while University beat NFC, 44-31, last year en route to its seventh state title.

“University Christian, North Florida Christian goes back into the late ’80s, early ’90s as a big playoff rivalry,” Eagles head coach Robert Craft said. “I think (tonight) will be no different and it will be a lot of fun for our guys to play them.”

One thing different for NFC (8-2) this time will be having two signature players back on offense, which is just one way it hopes to advance.

“A lot of it has to do with our senior class,” Craft said. “Our quarterback Justin Moore and our running back Jonathan Vickers, neither one of those guys played in the game last year, both were injured. It’s nice to have them this year when you go into a big game like this and you’re going to face such a good team like University.”

University (9-1) has been putting up an average of 44 points per game this season, and aside from a 39-0 stumble to Trinity Christian, has had little trouble dispatching opponents, including FAMU High in last week’s playoff opener.

“They have a ton of speed,” Craft said.

“They are extremely fast. They have several Division-I commitments. Up front, they’re very similar to Florida High as far as their size. They are a team that’s on top, and it’s a big challenge for our guys to have to go through last year’s state champion to move on.”

NFC suffered a big defeat at Wakulla and tripped up weeks before against Florida High, falling in the final seconds after failing throughout the game on multiple red zone opportunities. In the end, the Seminoles’ massive line pushed their way down the field to create a then-upset.

“We knew going in those were the types of games we needed to get us ready for these big playoff games,” Craft said.

“University is gonna be the type of opponent that matches right up with those caliber of teams. In every game, win or lose, you find things to do better. When you have opportunities in the playoffs, you have to make the most of them.”

NFC has done a good job not turning the ball over and will lean heavily on Vickers (1,052 rush yards, 17 TD) to move the chains. And while both offenses put up lots of points, a shootout isn’t a given.

“Last year, both teams scored on special teams and defense,” Craft said.

“The score maybe didn’t tell the true picture of the game. I think it’s going to come down to our ability to tackle. Typically in games like this, whichever team doesn’t turn the ball over usually wins when you have teams that are pretty evenly matched. We’re hopeful to go in there and play well offensively, hold onto the ball, and defensively if we can get a turnover, that could be the difference.”

Elsewhere, Lincoln (7-4) in 7A travels to face Niceville (10-1), which beat Leon, 62-14, last week. The Trojans slipped past Cantonment Tate, 13-11, holding off a late challenge with timely defensive plays.

And in 4A, Florida High (7-4) will host East Gadsden (5-6), which upset Fort White, 19-9, last week. The Seminoles defeated the Jaguars, 35-18, in October.

“This has been a really fun, fulfilling year,” Florida High coach Jarrod Hickman said.

“I think more than anything else, I felt like we had a chance to be a good team and the kids have just been outstanding all year long. Now we have a great opportunity in front of us and we just want to keep it going.”

Seminoles quarterback Ronnie Harrison, who has verbally committed to North Carolina as a defensive back, has accounted for over 1,500 yards passing and nearly 800 yards rushing, while contributing 24 combined touchdowns. And while making the playoffs was the initial focus, now motive has changed to adding one more win, week after week.

“Honestly, this was our goal to get to this point,” Hickman said.

“The kids really had a work-like attitude all year about getting better and peaking at the right time. But we just have to do simple things. Playing somebody a second time is not easy. The key is not turning the ball over, eliminating big plays and probably making sure we get off to a good start.”

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