A feeling of déjà vu hung over the Pensacola High School football field this week.
A season after watching so many games slip away in the fourth quarter, the Tigers saw it happen again in a 33-12 season-opening loss to Pine Forest.
Pine Forest held a slim 14-12 lead in the fourth quarter last week before their talented athletes broke away with a big final quarter.
“We left a lot of stuff on the field out there,” Pensacola head coach Mike Mincy said. “I think we were in the red zone three times and came out with no points. When you play a good team like that you got to finish.”
But out of one disappointment grows the opportunity for positive déjà vu against the Pace Patriots in Week 2.
The Tigers rebounded last year from an opening loss to Pine Forest with a 40-10 pummeling of the Patriots.
So even with Pace running back Anthony Johnson Jr., who ran for 286 yards and three scores in the Patriots’ 35-7 opening win over Fort Walton Beach, looming on the horizon, the Tigers are confident they will bounce back.
“They said that last year,” linebacker Robert Reeves said. “We held (Johnson) to nothing last year. We’re gonna do it again this year.”
Johnson’s Week 1 totals were little surprise after surpassing 2,000 rushing yards a year ago, but they did show he is as dangerous as ever in new head coach Kent Smith’s shotgun-oriented offense.
“He did all that with no carries in the fourth,” Smith said. “We had our starters out at the end of the third. It was a good night.”
While both coaches know what to expect from Reeves and Johnson, the difference could come down to the Pensacola offensive line.
Mincy said his inexperienced line will need to give quarterback Ashton Stephens, who played at Pace last season, and the running backs better protection moving forward.
They’ll be tested by Pace’s defense, which enters Friday’s contest with confidence after smothering Fort Walton Beach.
“We think we’re going to be a little better on defense this year,” Smith said. “The coaches have worked hard and the players have bought in.”
Even though the Tigers couldn’t deny the disappointment from Friday’s loss, Reeves pointed out that a season-opening loss to Pine Forest was a footnote in Pensacola High’s greatest season.
“We ain’t fixing to let that stand between us and the state championship,” Reeves said. “Like our coach said, the 2009 team that won state lost to the same team and then won the rest of them. So that’s what we’re gonna do.”