Friday’s game at Woodham Middle between Pine Forest and West Florida offered hard hits, explosive touchdowns and clutch defensive stops all in front of a packed house.
It was everything you would expect at a playoff game — except it was the preseason.
It’s safe to say local football players, coaches and fans were all beyond ready for teams to hit the gridiron.
West Florida came away with a 13-0 win in the varsity portion (second half), shutting out one of the area’s most athletic squads.
“I’ll tell you what, I had no idea just how fast (Pine Forest) is …. and their QB (Xavier Saulsberry) is the real deal,” Lees said. “(Saulsberry) can throw it, he’s got some pop on the ball. Our defense hung in there … they gave a little at times but boy, that is an explosive offense we played against. It was good fun.
“Pine Forest is right down the road and we throw against them three or four times a summer. The kids all know each other. It’s kind of like brothers playing against each other.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m proud.”
The Jags marched down the field on their opening drive, as Jaelyn Allen and Marquis Ross toted carries and Erick Antoine found Devin Abrams for a couple of nice catches.
Though the Jags were held on the goal line on that possession, with 1:17 to play in the first quarter of varsity play, Allen found the end zone with a 3-yard run.
The majority of the contest was a slugfest, dominated by both defenses with short plays for the offense.
But Malik Jenkins – one of five key running backs for the Jaguars — sparked the explosion, breaking outside for a 46-yard touchdown run to lift the lead to 13-0.
“For me, Jenkins is the guy with speed,” Lees said, referring to the variety of talent West Florida’s backfield holds. “They all have their parts. But I’m looking for guys that block, that’s how you get on the field.
“There’s so many guys in the backfield ahead of Jenkins grade wise, so they take him under their wing at times. But he is an explosive player. Devin Abrams is the same way. They both grind out yards and can also catch out of the backfield.”
But the Jaguars defense was ready for one more statement, and UCF commit Kalia Davis answered the call with a game-sealing interception on Pine Forest’s last drive.
“When it comes to our hands team — when someone onside kicks at us — Kalia is on there first,” Lees said. “He’s been that way since a sophomore coming up. He’s got great hands and good composure. If we ran a different offense, Kalia could probably play tight end. But I guess he’s doing pretty darn good at linebacker.”
West Florida will face Escambia on Thursday while Pine Forest will clash with Pensacola High on Friday to open week one.
Tate 17, PHS 6
Choctaw 28, Pace 13
Niceville 28, Catholic 7
West Florida 13, Pine Forest 0
Escambia 22, Lincoln 21
Northview 35, JU Blacksher 6
Jay at Baker