BLOUNTSTOWN — By now, you know the Baker Gators will play in the FHSAA Class 1-A state championship game Dec. 8 in Orlando — their first return to state in 23 years.
By now, you know that, to get there, the Gators won a hard-fought semi-final game in their return to Blountstown 20-19.
By now, you know that sophomore running back Junior McLaughlin ran over 60 yards to get Baker’s final touchdown in the first play of that possession following Blountstown’s go-ahead scoring drive.
Here’s what you may not know:
After a scoreless first quarter and Blountstown drawing first blood in the second, senior cornerback Jamaal Day had a big kickoff return that gave Baker’s offense a shorter field to answer back with a Jalen Ciurleo touchdown to help put Baker on top 7-6.
Senior linebacker Zach Brown recovered a fumble inside the Blountstown 30-yard line to again give the Gators a short field, resulting in Junior McLaughlin’s touchdown, giving Baker the lead going into halftime.
Yes, Baker’s defense allowed Blountstown’s go-ahead touchdown. However, the defense was gassed considering Blountstown made the Gators punt more times in one game than their last six games combined.
The entire game came down to kicking. With Blountstown’s kicker missing two PATs and a field goal attempt, it gave Baker’s senior kicker Joshua Springle the chance to win the game on his leg. And he did, despite a questionable missed PAT of his own before the half.
Springle also pinned Blountstown with a touchback right after Baker’s go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, giving a re-energized defense more room to work with.
Sophomore cornerback Derek Peoples Jr. batted down Blountstown’s final Hail-Mary attempt as the clock expired, securing the Gators’ ticket to the Citrus Bowl.
Now that you’re fully versed on how the Gators got to state, you should also know that their state championship opponent, the Pahokee Blue Devils, are also 13-0.
So, on Dec. 8, one team will come out of the Citrus Bowl with a championship and a perfect season.