Even during what many are considering a down year, District 1-6A still has managed to put on a show.
Pace rallied from an 0-3 start to clinch the district title last week with a 56-42 win against Escambia. The Patriots’ postseason spot is secure.
The rest of the district, well, they’re all still fighting for that one elusive playoff spot left.
Three teams — Escambia, Milton and PHS — enter tonight’s district finales with 2-2 league records. Washington and Pine Forest, at 1-3, still are mathematically alive for the runnerup spot and second playoff berth.
“It’s been a crazy season,” PHS coach Mike Bennett said. “We saw it last year with it coming down to the last game, and the last play and this year is going to be the same thing. It just goes to show that you just never know in this area. There’s a lot of pride and a lot of good teams and anybody is capable of beating you.”
The game that will attract the most attention tonight will be the Battle for the Bronze Helmet between rivals Milton and Pace at Pace High’s Patriot Stadium.
Even though Pace already has locked up the district championship, what happens in terms of the runnerup spot will be largely impacted by tonight’s showdown between the Santa Rosa foes.
“Who would have thought four or five weeks ago that this game would have more riding on it than just pride,” said Milton coach Chafan Marsh, whose team bounced back from an 0-7 start to win their last two games. “That’s what we’ve told the kids all season. You never give up because you just never know what’s going to happen.
“Last year, it looked like we were out of it around Week 6 or 7 and we came back and played hard and got back in it and ended up winning it. You just never know in this area. Too many good coaches, too many good players to think you know what’s going to happen.”
The scenarios for the second-place spot are numerous. Either Milton, Escambia or PHS could secure the runnerup position tonight, or it could come down to a three-team shootout between those teams. Or, the headache-causing five-team shootout also is a possibility if there’s a tie between five teams at 2-3.
The latter scenario is only possible if Pine Forest beats PHS, Washington upsets Escambia and Pace holds off Milton.
“I don’t know that we’ve harped on it as much as it was just letting them know that even though we’re struggling and have played poorly the last few weeks, we’re 10 weeks into an 11-week season and we have a shot,” Washington coach Craig LaBorde said. “By this time last year, we were long since dead in the water. Here you are, you still have a shot, still have something to play for.”
The teams with the inside track are the three tied at 2-2. Escambia needs to beat Washington and have Milton lose to Pace to get the runnerup spot. PHS needs to beat Pine Forest and have Escambia lose to Washington to get the automatic spot. Milton needs to beat Pace and have PHS lose to Pine Forest to get second place.
“You can throw out all the scenarios, and the only thing that really matters is you have to win and see what happens after that,” Bennett said. “None of it matters if you don’t go out and win (tonight).”