BAKER — Matt Brunson isn't one to count his chickens before they hatch.

But at 6-0 this season and fresh off back-to-back Final Four runs, the Baker head coach isn't afraid to look ahead. He isn't afraid to talk playoffs.

Home-field advantage is the topic of discussion this week.

Friday's trip to Chipley, a fellow 6-0 team, will go a long way in earning the Gators a Region 1-1A No. 1 seed and the honor of hosting all three games before the state title.

 

"We really believe we're in," Brunson said of the Gators' playoff chances. "What this game is, this is for home-field advantage. If we win this we'll host three playoff games"

But Brunson cautioned this isn't a "do-or-die game."

"We believe we'll meet Chipley again regardless of who wins," he said. "We'd just rather play them at home in the playoffs."

In Chipley Brunson sees a fast, talented, aggressive team that survived some early scares (21-17 over Marianna, 28-24 over Graceville) before putting it on Bozeman, Vernon, Cottondale and Freeport by a combined 146-38 margin of victory.

That includes last week's 49-14 win over a .500 team in Freeport, which couldn't contain Kelvin Dean Jr.

To their defense, no one has this season.

The 6-foot, 180-pound junior has 1,117 yards (186.2 per game) and 13 touchdowns on 8.7 yards per carry.  He had 233 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries against the Bulldogs. The week before it was 319 yards and three scores against Cottondale on 25 carries.

"He's very fast, electrifying fast," Brunson said. "We just got to play mistake free, play perfect on the run fits and contain him. There won't be much squaring him up, so we just have to get him on the ground."

Chipley doesn't go to the air much, quarterback Mason Cook just 11 of 27 for 300 yards and six touchdowns.

The lack of balance may be problematic against a stout Baker defense, which is allowing just a shade more than 14 points per game. Three times the Gators have held foes to single digits, while no team has scored more than 27 points against them.

Balance, meanwhile, is Baker's middle name.

Kalee Ciurleo, who returned last week to throw for three touchdowns, gives the Gators a vertical threat with weapons like Derek Peoples Jr., brother Jalen and Ethan Garrett at his disposal.

Even so, the Gators' backfield is their bread and butter. Gaining 8 yards per touch validates that.

Junior McLaughlin, Jayson Moore and Jalen Ciurleo have combined for 21 rushing touchdowns and each average around 100 rushing yards per game for a backfield that gains more than 350 yards a night.

"We work very hard on (our balance) and take what the defense gives us," Brunson said. "We're able to do a lot more things through the air this year compared to last, but we also don't overcompensate in trying to obtain that balance. We just look at the matchups and take advantage of the opportunities we're given."