On the cusp of a title

Published 9:17 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2012

As fans cheer, Northview running back La’Mikal Kyles hauls in a pass amidst coverage during NHS’ win Friday night.

Northview is on the cusp of the FHSAA 1A state championship, but in order to get there they’ll need one more win.

Their next opponent is the Liberty County Bulldogs, and they must face the team on the road. The trip to Bristol, Fla. is about three and a half hours from Bratt. Head coach Sid Wheatley isn’t concerned about such a long road trip.

“With our kids right now, there are a lot of guys that still remain from two years ago—the first time we won the region championship and went to Jacksonville, which I guess was about six hours,” Wheatley said. “There’s kids obviously from last year that are still a part of this team and this is their third opportunity to finally quote ‘knock down the door’ and get to where we want to be. With that kind of thing on the line, I don’t expect it to be an issue with us whatsoever. These kids just want to win. I know that, and whether it’s here or in another state for that matter, I think they’ll be up to the task this Friday.”

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The Bulldogs were the winners of region four, while the Chiefs won region one.

The Bulldogs have won nine straight games, while the Chiefs have won six of their last seven games.

“I expect it to be a good football game,” Wheatley said. “It’s two pretty good football teams. They’re on a roll. I think they’ve won nine in a row now. We’ve had things going well for the past several weeks ourselves. So, it’ll be hard-fought. They’re kids play hard. I know our kids will be ready and they’ll play hard and I expect that they’ll want to come out—I’m talking about our group—and get off to a better start this week and play better. We’re gonna’ have to play better this week if we want to get the win. As far as what we’re trying to do, schemes and that thing, we’re just going to continue to run our offense the way we’ve been doing it, whether that be out of the spread set, double wing pro-style. We’re gonna’ rep all of that this week and then make sure that we’re fundamentally sound on defense to give ourselves a chance to stop their offense.”

In order to get to this point, the Chiefs had to win a thrilling overtime game against the Freeport Bulldogs by a final score of 34-28.

“We knew it would be a challenge,” Wheatley said. “It was a matter of making sure our kids understood that. That’s what we told them all week and sure enough, they came over and did just that and jumped ahead 14-0. I thought our kids showed a lot of character throughout the game to be able to come back and put in some positions, some adverse situations and show a lot of resolve, erase the 14-point lead in the first half and get some momentum going into halftime with it being 14-14. We get the lead in the second half and Freeport scores and then goes ahead. Again, we have to drive the ball down the field and score. We did that and we stopped them in regulation and got to overtime, had a big stop, a big penalty obviously in the overtime to put them in a bad down and distance situation, and then we got the stop and I felt real good about it then. I felt like our kids would put themselves in a great opportunity to score and we did and won the football game.”

Northview presents the first unfamiliar opponent Liberty County has faced in the playoffs thus far. In the regional semifinals, the Bulldogs beat Bozeman 26-7 after beating the school 27-18 during the regular season. Then, in the regional finals, Liberty County beat Blountstown 14-7 after beating the school 20-7 in their regular season match-up.

Wheatley said facing the same opponent twice is often more difficult. Certainly, the Chiefs had less difficulty with the unfamiliar opponent of Cottondale, beating the team 57-6 in the regional semifinals.

“It’s always tough,” he said. “Sometimes a lot of coaches feel this way and the fact that you’ve got to play a team twice in a season and sometimes it’s hard to beat a team twice. The fact that we were fortunate to go over there and beat them the way we did, I think maybe our kids didn’t—not that they didn’t know that Freeport would come over here and make it a challenge—but sometimes with young people, it’s hard to really get their attention and understand guys ‘this is not going to be 42-0 again. These guys are going to come up here and play extremely hard. They’ve got a lot of pride and character on that side,’ because I know they’re coached pretty well and I know what he demands of them. That was a challenge to get our kids full attention to know that this team would come over here and play their rear ends off and try to beat you.”

Northview’s only road loss of the season was a 44-20 loss to Gulf Breeze, a playoff team in the 5A classification.
Wheatley said ball security will have a big impact on the upcoming road contest this Friday.

“Obviously, we’ve got to cut down the turnovers,” he said. “That’s gonna’ be a major, major issue is ball security for us. Little things, we’ve got to have a better center-quarterback exchange at times so that we can get in the flow of our offense and have everything work on a timing basis. We can’t allow teams like we have in the past two weeks to immediately get the ball and go down and score on their opening drive. We’ve got to get some stops early in the game and try to establish momentum and start really fast.”

The two teams have played three shared opponents, both going 2-1 against such opponents. Both teams beat Vernon, with Northview winning 40-0 while Liberty County won 48-0. Both also beat South Walton, with Northview winning 34-7 while Liberty County won 48-0. Both teams also lost to Marianna, with Northview losing in overtime 49-42 while Liberty County lost 26-7 in regulation.

Wheatley knows the task at hand will be challenging with Liberty County having their fair share of playmakers and a stingy defense that has allowed only 133 points this season.

“I know they’re well-coached,” Wheatley said. “Grant Grantham, their head coach, does a great job with them. They run, they double slot, they’ve got two good running backs, a quarterback that runs that offense. It’s a very systematic-type of scheme that they do really well and they rep it and rep it and rep it. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine if you want to look at it that way. Defensively, they haven’t given up very many points this year. So, they play good defense, good, sound offense and they don’t beat themselves. Normally, they’re moreopportunistic in taking the ball away from opponents as opposed to giving up the football.”

This time a year ago, quarterback Kevin Vaughan was thrust into the spotlight and expected to perform under pressure. Wheatley is confident Vaughan has matured as a player and will be perfectly capable of leading his team.

“From that point to this point, it’s a whole different player with Kevin,” Wheatley said. “Kevin’s really grown with his confidence. He’s got several games under his belt now. He grows every week I think, and he was put in some tough situations this past Friday night where we had a turnover or two by our offense. They had an interception down here, but then Kevin comes back and leads us down to tie the football game and when I say tie the football game, it’s 28-27 and he’s still gotta’ kick that extra point through right there to make sure that we tie the game and he did that. That was kind of a pressure situation I thought, and he responded and he’s really grown as a leader on that offense and as a football player.”

Northview will play Liberty County in Bristol, Fla. this Friday with kickoff set for 6:30 p.m.