Throughout the losing streaks and down-to-the-wire district defeats, never once did Kevin Pettis and John Hicks doubt the resolve of their teams.
In Niceville, Hicks saw his defending district champion Eagles start the district slate 0-2 after a 35-28 last minute loss to Navarre and a 31-28 setback to Choctaw.
Meanwhile in Crestview, Pettis watched his Bulldogs fall to 1-2 mark after twice failing to capitalize on fourth-quarter leads against Fort Walton Beach and Navarre.
But despite the pitfalls they’ve endured, both teams can be comforted by one fact headed into Friday’s meeting 7 p.m. showdown in Crest-view: They’re just one win away from a playoff bid.
Well, to be correct, two wins.
Embattled in a four-way second-place tie at 2-2 in district play with Choctaw and Fort Walton Beach, which square off Friday night, the Eagles and Bulldogs need a little help to punch their playoff ticket alongside district champion Navarre. With a tiebreaker between two of the four teams inevitable, the Eagles need a win from the Vikings. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs need a victory from Choctaw.
“As a coach you hate to depend on someone else,” said Pettis, whose team has struggled at home to the tune of a 1-4 mark. “But we can’t worry about that. At the end of the day we just have to take care of business and concentrate on the task at hand.”
Echoing that outlook was Niceville coach John Hicks, who said this win-or-go-home environment is par for the course at this point in the season.
“This is just the kind of game you come to expect at this point of the year,” he said. “It’s going to be a playoff-type atmosphere and we have to embrace that and go in there prepared.”
Aside from a playoff bid, up for grabs is also a piece of history.
On the wrong side is Crestview, which hasn’t beaten Niceville since 1982. But Pettis isn’t concerned with a streak that started more than a decade before his oldest player was even born.
“We’ve not talked about it,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned, Niceville is just another team in the county that we have to go out and play. And regardless of the past, we expect to win.”
A win, though, will be largely contingent on the play of University of Central Florida commitment Micah Reed, who’s racked up 1,155 yards and 14 scores on the season. That includes a 100-plus-yard effort in eight of the nine contests, the same number of games he’s find found the end zone – The 13-8 loss to Navarre, which is holding opponents to just 15.5 points per game, was his lone game without a score.
“He’s a pretty big chunk of the team,” said Hicks, whose defense has come on strong of late, giving up just 10 points to Mosley and holding a Blake James-led Fort Walton Beach to only 3 points during the Eagles’ two-game win streak. “We have to stop him to win.”
Confident Reed will get his yards, Pettis said the key to maximizing his touches will be the Bulldogs’ ball security.
“I think the key to us winning is protecting the football and not turning the ball over,” he said.
For Niceville, which is coming of its second bye week in the past month, Hicks said the key is “finishing drives.”
That’s been a staple recently for the Eagles, which are averaging 33 points over the last four games (all against district foes).
An integral part of the recent success has come from the big-play backfield duo of Tayjon Culley and Devin Vazquez, who have shined in the absence of an injured Shi Kim Coward. Culley, who has rushed for 334 yards in the past three games, is coming off a 123-yard, four-score effort in the rout over Fort Walton Beach. Vazquez, meanwhile, has racked up back-to-back 100-plus-yard rushing performances and has 432 yards of offense and six scores over the past three contests. Throw in the wide receiver Tyre McCants and the two-headed quarterback of Ashton Hooker and Andrew Mitchell, who returned from a three-game hiatus to go 5 of 10 for 43 yards against the Vikings, and Niceville has several options to move the chains.
“They have guys who can stretch the field out, they run the ball well and they have a lot of weapons,” Pettis said.
But Pettis’ defense – which limited Navarre to eight points and Mosley to seven over the past two weeks – has earned the respect of Hicks.
“They have a lot of team speed defensively so it’s hard to break runs against them,” he said.
Added up, Hicks is expecting a dogfight.
“It’s going to be a great game, great weather, and with so much on the line we expect to get Crestview’s best,” he said.
DISTRICT 2-6A PLAYOFF SCENARIOS
- Choctaw goes to the playoffs if…
If the Indians beat Fort Walton Beach at Steve Riggs Stadium and Niceville wins at Crestview. That would give the Indians the tie-breaker advantage due to their 31-28 win over the Eagles earlier this season.
- Fort Walton Beach goes to the playoffs if…
If the Vikings can hold serve at home to beat Choctaw and Crestview beats Niceville. The Vikings are 1-0 in district play at home this season, and in this scenario would hold the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs due to a 21-17 win in Crestview on Oct. 12.
- Niceville goes to the playoffs if…
If the Eagles win at Crestview and Fort Walton Beach tops Choctaw. The Eagles would close the season on a 3-game district winning streak and would hold the tiebreaker over the Vikings by virtue of their 34-3 win over FWB two weeks ago.
- Crestview goes to the playoffs if…
If the Bulldogs get past Niceville at home and Choctaw beats Fort Walton Beach on the road. The Bulldogs would reach 3-2 in district play after starting at 1-2, and would hold the tiebreaker over Choctaw thanks to their 28-24 win at Choctaw earlier.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Seth Stringer at 850-315-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SethSnwfdn.