Just the week before, West Florida High shut out its Panama City Beach opponent, clinching a spot in the playoffs with a strong defensive performance. So as the Jaguars prepared to take on Pensacola High on Friday for its final district game of the season, coach Harry Lees challenged his team to top that defensive performance by picking up three turnovers against the Tigers.
Much to Lees’ delight, West Florida needed less than a half to do exactly that.
For the second week in a row, the Jaguars were dominant on defense, sacking the PHS quarterback five times, recovering three fumbles and recording two interceptions on the way to a 35-0 victory. West Florida held Pensacola High to just 101 yards of total offense.
“(The defense) played great, special teams played great. They just played phenomenal and basically dictated the night,” Lees said. “I’m just real proud of the way they played.”
West Florida, too, got off to a slow start on offense, throwing an interception on their very first play and turning it over on downs on the next drive.
But once the Jaguars found the end zone — Jordan Jones scored first on a 9-yard run with a minute to play in the first quarter — they didn’t let up.
Taylor Lopes made it a 10-point game minutes later with a 26-yard field goal, and he’d have another, a 35-yarder, just before halftime.
West Florida’s other first-half touchdowns came on a 40-yard pass from quarterback Trevor Jordan to Marquise Ross and a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown from Amir McDaniel.
“Actually the play before I asked my teammate if he wanted to switch with me. He said, ‘No, I believe in you, man,’” McDaniel said about his score. “So they threw the ball up, I just went up and caught it. I saw grass, cut back and just touchdown.”
And for the rest of the night, the Jaguar defense continued to play lights out.
Most of the Tigers’ drives featured either a West Florida sack or a forced turnover — sometimes both — and the Jaguars tallied at least a dozen tackles for loss. In the second quarter, linebacker Kalia Davis had a big third-down sack to force a punt, and on the very next drive he picked off the Pensacola quarterback.
“It really gets the momentum going,” Davis said about his defense. “When we get plays like that back-to-back-to-back, it just makes the shutout even easier.”
In the second half, the Tigers recorded just 16 yards of offense. Meanwhile, West Florida (7-2, 4-0) special teams and defense continued to score points, thanks to a 60-yard McDaniel punt return for a touchdown and a safety of PHS (1-8, 0-4).
The defensive prowess may be becoming a pattern. But for McDaniel, Friday was about a night of firsts.
“We’ve won districts three years in a row … and we went undefeated in our district for the first time,” McDaniel said, proudly.
And, he added, the firsts aren’t done.
“We’re trying to make history this year,” he said.