BAKER — For the first time in a dozen years, the lights at Baker School's Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium will shine a football playoff game Friday. That's when the Gators host Cottondale in the Region 1-1A semifinals. Game time is 7 p.m.
"It is huge," Baker Coach Matt Brunson said of hosting the game. "It's been a dozen years since we won a district championship, and that's what it takes to host a playoff game. We are there.
"In reference to the big picture, in the short term, we are proud to be 10-0 and hosting a playoff game."
The Hornets, the runner up from District 2-1A, bring a 6-4 record into the game against the 10-0 Gators.
Cottondale and Baker have played six common opponents. Both teams beat Freeport, Sneads, North Bay Haven Academy and Graceville. The Hornets lost to Jay and South Walton, teams the Gators beat.
The Baker offense has averaged 40.6 points a game. The Gator defense has allowed 16 points a game.
Cottondale's scoring average is 31.2 points a game. The Hornet defense has allowed 23.7 points a game.
Brunson knows you have to take playoff games one at a time, so he's not overlooking the Hornets.
"Cottondale is very athletic," he said. "Coach (Mike) Melvin and his staff have done a very good job. They beat a very good Graceville team two weeks ago to clinch a runner up spot 30-14.
"They battled Vernon 15-8 for the district championship. They do a great job, and it should be a great high school football game."
Vernon's offense, like Baker's, is run-oriented. The big difference is the approach the teams take in running the ball.
The Gators line up in the more traditional run formation, with the quarterback under center and a fullback serving as the lead blocker for the tailback.
With D.J. Thomas amassing 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns rushing, the offense has clicked to near perfection.
Cottondale also uses a fullback and tailback, but the Hornets operate out of shotgun formation, running several plays similar to those used by the Gators.
The Hornets run a 4-4 defense (four down linemen and four linebackers). Brunson expects them to crowd the line of scrimmage trying to stop Thomas. Brunson thinks the Gators can exploit Cottondale's defense with the passing game of Jon Beck.
Brunson said the Hornets might have a little more size and speed than Baker, but that doesn't concern him.
Brunson, who was the head coach at Crestview in 2002 when the Bulldogs played in the Class 3A state championship game, said he learned the importance of not throwing too much at the players.
"You have to keep everything simple for the kids and getting them to play hard where they don't have to think," he said. "Our game plan overall has got to stay consistent with what we've been doing.
"We are not going to change much. We are just going to keep working."
Brunson said he hopes football fans from other north county schools come to the game.
"We feel like we are representing all of north Okaloosa County in the playoff game we are hosting this week," he said. "We would just like to invite everyone out to watch a good football game.
"It should be an electrifying playoff atmosphere."
WANT TO GO?
What: Cottondale at Baker, Region 1-1A semifinals
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.