As the high school football season progresses each week, the stakes are raised.
Contenders fall by the wayside as the favorites to win district advance to the regional round of the state playoffs and take a step forward.
At this point in the season, most district games serve as an elimination game. And Week 8 certainly has its share of games that will make or break a bunch of seasons.
Two area teams could lock up playoff spots tonight. One team could clinch a district title and undefeated campaign in league play.
In the bigger districts, this week serves as an opportunity to set up championship showdowns down the road.
All nine games on tap tonight in the Pensacola area will have some bearing on the postseason as teams enter the stretch run.
“I think the main thing we keep telling our guys is that (those big showdowns) won’t mean a whole lot if we drop the ball and don’t do our part to get there,” said West Florida coach Harry Lees, whose team hosts rival Gulf Breeze at 7 tonight in a big District 1-5A contest. “If they want to play in the big game, whether that’s for a district championship or in the playoffs, they’ve got to do their part each step of the way.”
District 1-5A still is a couple of weeks away from being settled. Unbeatens West Florida and Catholic appear to be headed toward a Week 10 collision for the title, provided both can pass tests the next couple of weeks. Catholic hosts Arnold tonight in a 7:30 homecoming contest at Gorecki-LeBeau Stadium.
One district that could be settled tonight is 2-6A when the Navarre Raiders (4-3, 1-0) host Choctawhatchee (5-2, 0-0) at 7:30. The Raiders already have beaten Fort Walton Beach, so a win against Choctaw would lock up the league title for Navarre.
“This is it for us; it’s a chance to win the district,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said. “That in itself is a huge motivator. It’s something that we’ve really been working for, since the end of last year.
“When you’re re-establishing your goals in the offseason, you’re shooting for a championship, wanting to be competitive and win the district. We took care of our part (against Fort Walton Beach) and now we have that to play for (tonight) against Choctaw.”
The Tate Aggies (5-2, 0-1) also are in control of their own destiny tonight when they travel to take on Crestview (3-4, 0-0).
The Aggies opened District 1-7A play with a loss to Niceville two weeks ago, but know that a win tonight against the Bulldogs will assure them of no worse than a three-team shootout for the district title. A loss tonight, though, would end the Aggies’ hopes of a playoff berth.
Considering the Aggies had won only one game in the previous two years combined, it’s been a remarkable turnaround in Ronnie Douglas’ first year at the helm.
“We talked about that if you win, you have a shot of getting into the playoffs,” Douglas said. “You want to get in; it doesn’t matter how you get in. The key is getting in and having that shot.
“With what we’ve been through, we’ve drawn closer as a team. We don’t want the season to end. It feels good to go out there every day knowing you have a chance to keep playing if you win.”
The two other districts in the area — Districts 1-6A and 1-1A — are like 1-5A in that they still are a week or two away from being settled. But that doesn’t mean this week’s games won’t have an impact on the league title.
In 1-6A, Pace, tied for the top spot with undefeated Escambia, will try to set up a Week 9 showdown with the Gators with a win tonight against PHS.
Escambia travels to Milton (0-7, 0-2) tonight to try to keep up with Pace in the district standings.
Washington, who enters tonight’s games at 3-3 overall and 1-1 in district, still controls its own destiny in regard to making the state playoffs and will try to keep those postseason hopes alive when it hosts winless Pine Forest.
In District 1-1A, the two undefeated teams in league play — Baker and Northview — face critical games this week to set up a Week 10 showdown between the two teams. Baker will play host to Jay, who at 3-3 overall has hopes of knocking off Baker and remaining in the playoff picture.
Northview will play host to Freeport. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. kickoffs.