The Baker School football team (9-1) begins its march to a fifth straight Final Four appearance at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium against upstart Graceville (8-3).

BAKER — Two weeks have come and gone since the Baker football team fell to Blountstown in their SSAC conference championship matchup.


The Gators (9-1 overall) aren’t sweating it.


Sure, they would have liked a win, the game snapping a streak of 38 regular season victories, but coach Matt Brunson and Co. had already locked up the top seed in Region 1-1A, a first-round bye and home field advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs.


If anything, the loss proved a learning experience, the Gators taking a page out of Nick Saban’s playbook.


“It’s just kinda like Saban said this week: ‘Failure is not final or fatal as long you learn from it, move forward and get better,’” Brunson said. “I think we’ve done that, so we tried to turn it into a positive.”


And that positivity has Baker buzzing ahead of the Gators’ region semifinal tilt against Graceville (8-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium.


The two teams haven’t faced off in over a year, the Gators taking an early November matchup 47-0 before beginning their march to a fourth straight Final Four and a state championship appearance.


This year’s Tigers squad feels vastly different, though. After claiming just three wins combined in its two prior seasons, Graceville rattled off seven wins during the regular season under first-year coach Barry Gardner, a man with ties to Baker.


“He’s done a good job,” Brunson said. “He was actually an assistant for years for my offensive coordinator, Rob Armstrong. They had been at several stops together, and you’ll see a lot of similarities between our attack and their attack.”


This past Friday, the Tigers made quick work of Freeport, 40-13, in the Region 1 quarterfinals, holding Dandy Dozen running back Brandon Siples to just 56 rushing yards while Brunson looked on from the stands.


“Graceville put it on Freeport pretty good,” he said. “Graceville’s very athletic and very good, man.”


Running back Jeremiah Castro is the linchpin behind the Tigers’ attack. Averaging 8.1 yards per carry, the senior has racked up 1,641 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns to date, including an absurd 279 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on just 23 carries against the Bulldogs.


“He’s very athletic,” Brunson said. “If he gets a seam, you’re not gonna catch him. We’re gonna have our hands full containing him. They take pride in blocking for him, and her runs down hill hard.”


If that weren’t enough, the Tigers also employ the services of junior Xavian Sorey. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Sorey is a four-star recruit, according to 247Sports, and holds offers from Alabama, Florida State, Auburn, Clemson, Florida and Miami, among others.


Playing both sides of the ball, Sorey has totaled seven touchdowns, including three on interception returns, while piling up 615 rushing yards.


Limiting both Sorey and Castro will be key for a Gator defense that allows just 11.7 points per game and has forced 23 turnovers (12 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries) with 13 sacks and 58 tackles for loss.


Meanwhile, the Baker offense has plenty of playmakers on its roster, too.


Behind its Wing-T attack, Baker’s ground game is averaging 352.9 yards and 4.3 touchdowns per game. Junior Joe Brunson’s 1,864 rushing yards (nine yards per carry) and 19 total touchdowns lead the Gators, who’ve also gotten a ridiculous 16.1 yards per carry from Jackson Adams en route to 15 total scores.


Those numbers dipped against Blountstown, the Gators averaging just 3.1 yards per play in the loss, but Brunson said the team has since renewed its focus.


“We just went back and started working back on fundamentals,” he said. “When you play a very good team like Blountstown, they expose you a little bit in some areas, and we had some work to do.


“I think we’ve had two good weeks of preparation, and I think just like every year we try to hit our stride in mid-November and be strong for the playoffs. We’ve done that, so hopefully we’ll get a win this week. That’s definitely our goal, and I think we’re definitely improved from where we were two weeks ago.”