Dating back to two seasons ago, the Pine Forest Eagles and the Tate Aggies have generated one of the area’s top district rivalries.
Last year, the teams split as Pine Forest won in the District 1-6A championship and Tate got revenge in the Region 1-6A semifinals.
In 2014, the regular season meeting came down to a 33-32 win for Tate in overtime.
This Friday, the stakes are high again as the Eagles host the Aggies in a win-or-stay-home game at 7:30 p.m — accounting for the PNJ / ESPN Pensacola game of the week.
That’s right, winner secures a playoff spot while the loser will watch the playoffs from the stands.
“It has been a good-spirited rivalry (between Pine Forest and Tate),” Eagles head coach Jerry Pollard said. “Both schools are close. Of course, the players know each other. Both teams will come out and play as hard as they can.”
Last week was optimistic for both teams, as Tate issued its highest scoring performance of the year in a 63-42 win over Choctaw, while Pine Forest played the star-studded Niceville Eagles closer (27-14 loss) than any area team this season.
It was little surprise to many that Jake Henry led the way for Tate, as he had his hand in eight touchdowns during last week’s win.
“We were moving quick on offense (last week) and Jake is an awesome football player and the ultimate competitor,” Tate coach Jay Lindsey said. “Our O-Line did a great job and running backs and wide receivers were making plays. It was a total team effort.
“We feel more excitement than pressure (about Friday’s game). We should be excited about the opportunity to play in such a big game. We should treat it like it could be our last time playing and we can’t hold back. We’ve had a good week of practice and the guys are focused.”
Though the Eagles suffered a loss last week, it certainly wasn’t as painful as being shutout by Escambia in a district game or being upset by Gulf Breeze in Week 4.
The Eagles have had an up-and-down season full of injuries, but the Eagles appear to be relatively healthy heading into Friday.
“Last week we had all of our players back, but we lost a running back — Ladarius Wiggins,” Pollard said. “I think the injuries really hurt us this year. We lost two running backs. X (Pine Forest quarterback Xavier Saulsberry) fractured a bone in his ankle earlier this year and we had a couple of defensive guys with broken bones. It probably hampered us some, but every team has injuries … it is part of the game. Other guys just have to step up and play.”
Pollard saw a strong defensive performance from his group last week mixed with slight inconsistency from Pine Forest’s offense — which stalled out in the third quarter.
For Tate, Lindsey says success will boil down to execution and fundamentals.
“No. 1, I’m expecting Pine Forest to play hard — they are very talented and very fast … everyone knows that,” Lindsey said. “We just want to play hard and do the best we can. We want to represent Tate High in a positive manner.
“Without a doubt, both teams will give their full effort. We will do what we do. Hopefully some kids make some big plays for us and things will go our way.”
Want to go?
Where: Pine Forest High
Who: Tate Aggies vs. Pine Forest Eagles
Records: Tate (7-2, 1-1); Pine Forest (5-3, 1-1)
Skinny: Tate’s high-powered offense (411.5 ypg) travels to face Pine Forest’s physical defense (70.8 tackles-per-game) for the final playoff spot in District 1-6A. Winner will hit the road in the first round of the postseason while the loser will have to wait until next year for a shot at the playoffs.
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