CRESTVIEW – It’s been a while since Crestview football was relevant come the postseason. 2002, in fact.

A lot’s changed in the 14 years since, a period where the Bulldogs made just four playoff appearances with nary a regional playoff win.

But this year the Bulldogs have forged a new path.

They built a better, more nuanced offense that could go vertical. 

They brought in Tommy Johnson to run a defense that was imposing up front, turnover-driven in the secondary.

The 9-1, district-title regular season affirmed Crestview’s growth.

And Friday’s 35-0 win over Middleburg in the Region 1-6A quarterfinals affirmed a return to postseason relevance.

“It’s good for the program,” Crestview head coach Tim Hatten said. “The kids have worked hard. They’ve watched the struggles, watched the injuries and watched the near-misses and experienced some bad luck over the years. The seniors have been through a lot. But this isn’t a senior-laden team. We play a lot of young kids.

“The future is really bright for us. But that future is also now.”

The Bulldogs are now one of the 16 teams left in the “Drive to December,” a state-title contender for the first time in 14 years.

And a legitimate one at that based on Friday’s dominance, which came despite missing cornerback D'Marcus Purcell (broken forearm) and go-to wideout Andrew Adkins (right shoulder injury).

“But Andrew will be ready next week,” Hatten said.

But the Bulldogs didn’t miss him Friday. Not with a stacked defensive effort and another multi-touchdown effort from quarterback Rusty Moorer.

The Bulldogs’ defense scored on a pick-six from Devin Voisin and a 95-yard fumble return from Samuel Johnson, Moorer had a pair of scores and Jay Stanton scored on a 62-yard touchdown run to set up the Bulldogs for a Sweet16 trip to St. Augustine.

Moorer, the 6A state leader in touchdown passes and passing yards, entered the night averaging 302 yards a night (289 passing, 13 rushing) with 42 touchdowns. His 23-yard touchdown pass to Yohundra Frederick up the right sideline began the day for the Bulldogs, who led 21-0 at the end of the first half after Stanton’s 62-yard touchdown run up the middle and then Moorer’s two-yard keeper.

“We ran for 200 yards and didn’t even throw for 100,” said Hatten, whose team is typically the exact opposite of that script. “They dropped lot of people in coverage and we had to take what they gave us.”

Crestview’s defense, meanwhile, held Middleburg to less than 50 yards of total offense in the opening 24 minutes of play.

There were no gaps to run through. No blown coverage in the secondary. No semblance of a red zone threat.

But as dominant as the opening 24 minutes of play was for Tommy Johnson’s crew, the Bulldogs found a way to top their first-half effort. As rewarding as three-and-outs and punts are, the Bulldogs stepped up their game in the second half and discovered a nose for the end zone.

Midway through the third quarter Johnson stripped Middleburg’s quarterback Garrett Blanchett on fourth down at the 5-yard line and rumbled 95 yards untouched to the house for a 28-0 lead. On the ensuing possession Crestview had a pick-six to elicit the running clock, which set the tone for a scoreless fourth quarter and the Bulldogs’ second shutout of the year.

“The guys came to play defense tonight,” Hatten said. “They gave up just one big play and a couple of penalties, but were great outside of that.”

The result wasn’t a surprise considering the teams’ disparate regular season journeys.

Crestview, after finishing the regular season 9-1, entered the night as the overwhelming favorite against 4-5 Middleburg, which hasn’t won a playoff game since 2003 and has only one postseason victory in six trips.

The Broncos’ four wins this year have come against opponents with a combined 6-31 record. They also beat an 0-10 Ridgeview team by just two points. Meanwhile, Crestview’s only loss came to District 2-6A champion Gulf Breeze.

Many assumed the Bulldogs would be hosting rival Niceville next Friday, part two in a rivalry the Bulldogs won 27-21 two weeks ago. But St. Augustine scored a 35-28 win at home over the Eagles to set up hosting duties next week.

“We don’t know much about St. Augustine, but it ought to be a really good game defensively,” Hatten said. “We have to play better offensively and put up some points. We have to put some pressure on them.

“We’re still alive, we’re still fighting. We’re excited.”