The Drive to December has now become the Wait for December for Baker football.
Once the Gators defeated Blounstown 20-19 Friday night, so began the long countdown toward the 1A state championship at Orlando's "Citrus Bowl."
How long, exactly? Well, as of today 10 days separate the Gators from a Dec. 8 kickoff against Pahokee at 1 p.m.
That means more than a week of game film, more than a week of practice, more than a week to heal from the injuries associated with a stacked 13-game season. Just think of it as a bowl game of sorts, the extra week of preparation the result of college football's ACC Championship moving from North Carolina to Orlando.
"I think it's good for both teams," Baker head coach Matt Brunson said of the extra time to prepare. "We have a few guys with some bumps and bruises and I'm sure they do to. We're just going to treat it like a regular game week this week and then next week we'll have one heavy work day, one light day and one travel day."
The travel day will come Dec. 7, Baker making the 410-mile trek from the 850 area code to Orlando. Pahokee, located west of West Palm Beach, will make a 142-mile trek north.
Once the Gators get to Orlando, they'll find a local high school with turf to get in a practice and then get acclimated to a stadium that will seat 70,000-plus for Saturday's ACC championship between Clemson and Virginia Tech.
"It'll be a a new experience for both teams," said Brunson, who led Crestview to a state title appearance in 2002. "We haven't played in the sunshine or lights as bright as these, but we'll just have to get moving a bit earlier in the day, get stretched out and get focused a little earlier than we're used to. It doesn't matter what time we play, we'll just look to execute like we've done all year."
Both 13-0 programs are storied, Baker the proud owners of five state titles and Pahokee six. But it's been awhile since each has reached that mountaintop — the drought for Baker is 23 years, while Pahokee's is eight.
But throw history out of the equation. This is a new year — new offenses, new defenses, new mindsets.
And for Pahokee, a new head coach in Orson Walkes.
Under Walkes, the Blue Devils have survived a murderer's row of powerhouses in the playoffs. There was a 35-34 win over 8-1 Newberry in the region semifinal. Then a 47-28 win over 9-1 Trenton, last year's state champion, followed in the Region 4 championship. Then came last week's 21-19 nailbiter over 11-0 Madison County in the final four.
"Obviously at this point you're going to face a very good team," Brunson said. "They have a very good tailback (in senior Rodney McKay) and are just very athletic."
Baker, meanwhile, had an easier path in the first two rounds with a 56-6 win against Cottondale and a 21-14 win at Graceville. That set the stage for a 20-19 comeback win at 10-2 Blountstown, which many would argue was a state title tilt in its own regard.
While it's early and game film has yet to be fully dissected and analyzed, Brunson said to expect another down-to-the-wire tilt.
"Our team knows how to win games in the fourth quarter, and that's the kind of game we expect next week," he said. "Our guys play hard and they've kind of took on that underdog role this year. The hard work started in January and it was the best offseason we've had in a while. All year they've just continued make plays."