Come Friday, four teams will vie to end the area's 21-season state championship drought in high school football.
1995 seems like ages ago.
That would be the last year an area team won an FHSAA state football title, Joey Rankin’s Fort Walton Beach crew reaching the mountaintop to cap a run of nine state championships for area teams from 1983-1995.
Come Friday, four teams will vie to end the 21-season drought.
FHSAA's Selection Sunday, modeled after the March bracket reveal for NCAA Division I basketball, laid out their paths.
While the team with the best shot at state glory can be debated, what can't be is Baker's legitimacy as a frontrunner.
It goes beyond Baker's 10-0 record, too. The Gators, seeded No. 1 in Region 1-1A, have yet to be played within a possession, their margin of victory an impressive 446-170.
That includes a 49-27 win over eighth-seeded Jay, which Baker will welcome for a region semifinal matchup at Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium Friday at 7:30 p.m.
So what makes Baker a threat to South Florida teams?
They have three running backs — Junior McLaughlin, Jayson Moore and Jalen Ciurleo — that can top 100 yards any given night. They have a dual-threat quarterback in Kalee Ciurleo, who has morphed into a gunslinger with a few 300-yard passing nights this season. The defense is apologetically smashmouth, equal parts strong up front and in the secondary.
With a first-round win, Baker would face the victor of second-seeded Holmes County and third-seeded Chipley on Nov. 17. The Gators defeated both in the regular season.
Another crew headed into the playoffs undefeated is 8-0 Crestview, the No. 2 seed in Region 1-6A. The Bulldogs will host seventh-seeded Gulf Breeze (8-2) Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Jack Foster Stadium.
The teams didn't play this year, but they have two common opponents in Fort Walton Beach and Milton.
Both routed Milton, while Crestview bulldozed the Vikings 56-14 and the Dolphins held on for a 31-23 victory over Phil Dorn's crew.
While Crestview has enjoyed a relatively easy schedule, they've destroyed the teams in front of them. To wit: They've yet to be played within two possessions en route to outscoring foes 273-78.
Their closest game? A 35-18 rout of rival Niceville at Eagles Stadium. At home the Bulldogs are 6-0 and have outscored visitors 198-50.
That's what happens when you have an offensive line featuring the Voisin brothers at wideout, Rod Bouchard under center and Jay Stanton in the backfield running behind a line featuring giants Bryson Norris, Weston Tew, Luther Fagalima and Cade Kootsouradis.
Then you have the small matter at hand of a defense that weekly finds the end zone and is allowing under 10 points a contest.
The winner will advance to face the victor of third-seeded Escambia and sixth-seeded Pine Forest on Nov. 17.
As for the other two playoff qualifiers, two words: Rematch, anyone?
A week after Navarre (8-1) beat Niceville (6-3) 42-20 at Bennett C. Russell Stadium, the pair of teams will do it over again.
Fourth-seeded Navarre is fresh off a 3-0 run for the District 2-6A title, while fifth-seeded Niceville finished runner-up to Crestview in District 3-6A and enters Friday on a two-game losing streak.
Niceville isn't at full strength, quarterback Will Koch sidelined with a leg injury and cornerback Juanyeh Thomas dealing with a high ankle sprain.
Jack White, slotting over from wide receiver to quarterback, had three touchdowns last week against Navarre, but he was also pressured into two pick-sixes and never established a vertical attack.
Navarre, meanwhile, had success running the ball behind Omari Green, Chris Williams and Dante Wright, the latter who had three touchdowns. Quarterback Sage Chambers also had two touchdowns and the Raiders thrived in the wildcat behind Wright and Josh Carter, who added two scores.
The winner will face the victor of top-seeded St. Augustine and eighth-seeded Tate on Nov. 17.