West Florida completed one of the area’s top regular seasons, closing on a seven-game win streak and capturing their third-straight district title.
Unfortunately for West Florida (8-2), the FHSAA playoffs don’t utilize a “reward” system.
Yes, the Jaguars earned home-field advantage in the first round, but West Florida may have been issued the toughest draw in 5A and perhaps the state.
The District 1-5A champion Jaguars will play host Friday to the Wakulla War Eagles, who finished as 5A state runner-up last year.
“We feel like the next district over (District 2-5A) — Godby, Rickards and Wakulla — is probably one of the toughest in the state,” West Florida coach Harry Lees said. “We feel like if we can make it past the first two rounds (of the playoffs), we’ve got a really good chance to advance. In the past, the team that usually comes out ahead (after second round) makes it to the finals more times than not.”
Though the Jaguars show high respect for the talent and level of competition Wakulla and the rest of 2-5A brings, they aren’t close to backing down from Friday’s battle — or a potential second-round game vs. 2-5A champion RIckards, if both West Florida and Rickards advance.
“We’ve had a bit of success over the years (vs. 2-5A teams). We’ve beat Wakulla before (in 2014) and Godby in 2013 — they were defending state champs that year,” Lees said in reference to Godby. “To put one victory together over those teams is good, but back-to-back is a tall order. Hopefully we can take care of the first one Friday night. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Last time West Florida played the War Eagles, Wakulla used an air attack headed by QB Felipe Franks (now on the University of Florida football team), but the Jaguars held on to win.
This year, Wakulla has shown a ground-and-pound style to lead to its district runner-up finish.
The War Eagles put up 295 rushing yards per game, led by seniors Brandon Berry (1,036 yards, 9.0 rushing average) and Demarcus Lindsey (700 yards, 7.7 rushing average).
Berry— as a sophomore — left an impression on West Florida in the last meeting between teams, though West Florida won 41-34.
“He (Berry) is a special player. He was already good back then (in 2014),” Lees said. “The thing about Wakulla and coach (Barry) Klees, they have a lot of tradition of playing hard-nosed football. They usually run the Wing-T style offense and pound you. They fly to the ball on defense and don’t give up a whole lot of points. We know it is gonna be a very physical football game.”
Physicality has gone hand-in-hand with the West Florida Jaguars, led by a group of seniors that eat, sleep and breathe competition.
“Our seniors are not overconfident to the point that they think they will just go in and win. They carry an attitude that they belong and can play with anybody and give them their best shot,” Lees said. “Not only do they love to compete, they work hard. When one guy on this team is not doing his job, they tell him to step it up and let him know they expect more. They have definitely been a good group to coach.
“We’ve been with these seniors for four years … it’s all like family now. We’re definitely never going to be ready for this season to end.”
Region 1-5A Quarterfinal
Who: Wakulla War Eagles vs. West Florida Jaguars
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Woodham Middle
Records: Wakulla (7-2), West Florida (8-2)
Skinny: Win or go home as District 1-5A champ West Florida hosts 2-5A runner up Wakulla. West Florida beat Wakulla in the 2014 playoffs.