The Baker School football team (11-1 overall) will face Blountstown (12-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Blountstown in the Class 1A state semifinals.
BAKER — You wouldn’t blame the Baker Gators if their thoughts drifted this week.
When there’s a turkey roasting in the oven, football on the TV and family in your home, focusing on anything other than the holidays can be difficult.
But this is Baker, the Gators (11-1 overall) bound for a fifth straight Final Four trip and a rematch with Blountstown (12-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Tigers’ den. They’ve been here before.
“The ultimate goal is to play in Tallahassee, to make it to the state championship game,” Gator coach Matt Brunson said. “One of the goals we set, too, is to have a winning season and be playing on Thanksgiving weekend.
“They’ve had that goal, and the next goal will be to get to the state championship game.”
Ergo, the focus takes care of itself.
And if there was even a sliver of doubt, the Gators’ focus has been a fixture through Baker’s first two playoff matchups. The Gators held off a late Graceville rally two weeks ago in a 35-21 victory, then stopped Vernon on fourth down at midfield with less than a minute left this past week to secure a narrow 21-20 contest.
Brunson points to both as signs his Gators are trending up ahead of the Final Four.
“Our guys understand that when we get into the playoffs, the stakes are higher and the preparation is very focused,” he said. “I think our play is kind of a testament to that the last two weeks.”
Of course, facing Blountstown is by no means an easy task. The Tigers beat the Gators 33-7 in early November to claim the Sunshine State Athletic Conference North Florida championship, snapping Baker’s streak of 38 straight regular season victories in the process.
Blountstown running back Treven Smith ran for 115 yards and a touchdown in that game, leading a ground attack that piled up four scores and 232 yards. The Gators — dominant on the ground in their own right this season — were held to just 3.1 yards per play.
For the year, the Tigers have averaged 275.5 rushing yards per game, most of it coming by way of Smith. The senior has carried the ball just 112 times this year, but he has 1,444 rushing yards — good for 12.9 yards per carry — and 16 rushing touchdowns. Fellow senior Alex Valdez has also chipped in 716 yards and 10 scores.
Besides allowing 7.2 points per game, the Blountstown defense has racked up 17 sacks, 67 tackles for loss, 15 fumble recoveries and eight interceptions.
“They do a great job, (coach) Beau Johnson and his staff, but we’ll definitely take away and correct the stuff we messed up the first time,” Brunson said. “I think we’ll be definitely improved in that area, but they’ll make some changes and we’ll have to adjust as we go.
“They do a good job and they have some good players and we’ll have our hands full containing ’em, but we definitely don’t want to make the same mistakes we made last time.”
Meanwhile, Baker’s ground game is averaging 332.8 yards and 4.2 touchdowns per game behind its Wing-T attack. Junior Joe Brunson’s 2,150 rushing yards (8.3 yards per carry) and 25 total touchdowns lead the Gators, who’ve also gotten a ridiculous 14.2 yards per carry from Jackson Adams en route to 15 total scores.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Gator defense is allowing just 13.2 points per game and has forced 26 turnovers (12 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries) with 18 sacks and 67 tackles for loss.
Keeping both units in position, Matt Brunson said, will be pivotal.
“Bottom line is, to be successful, you’ve gotta have perfect run fits,” he said. “I felt like against Blountstown the first time, we got out of position a few times.
“But we’ve definitely been lights out since then, so hopefully we can keep that going.”