Seven Pensacola-area teams started their state-postseason journeys with the same objective: have practice on Thanksgiving.
While six squads fell by the wayside, most of which in agonizingly close fashion, there’s one program that is thankful to reach that goal.
Northview is the last area team standing.
The Chiefs take on Chipley in a Region 1-1R Final at 7 p.m. Friday from Tommy Weaver Memorial Football Stadium.
“I said to the guys, ‘there’s a lot of good teams at the house. What you’ve done, you’ve earned, and it’s really special because it’s not only about just being a great team at this point. It’s about your work ethic, it’s about your discipline, it’s about your leadership,’” Northview head coach Wes Summerford said. “I think that’s what makes us special.”
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With each team entering with 11-0 records, Northview is the No. 1 seed in the region while the Tigers are the No. 2 seed. The two programs swapped top spot in the region’s RPI rankings throughout the year, with the Chiefs surging past Chipley following their 41-6 win over Bay in the last week of the regular season.
‘Seniors have really taken over’
Northview reached this point for the first time since 2013 thanks to a 34-26 victory over No. 5 Holmes County in a regional semifinal last Friday. While the effort was good enough to advance, players and coaches walked off the field that night dejected following a sloppy performance.
The Chiefs offense struggled at times to convert drives into points due to penalties and turnovers. The defense failed to put the Blue Devils away, allowing a late fourth-quarter touchdown to make it a one-score game, while the special teams unit relinquished a kickoff return touchdown.
However, with an aim to keep their high school careers alive, the Northview seniors commanded the first couple days of practice this week and set the appropriate tone for the upcoming matchup.
Coming off a four-touchdown effort against Holmes County, senior quarterback Kaden Odom was vocal in his leadership on Monday. On the following day, senior athlete Luke Bridges took over that role with his action and intensity and while senior athlete Jamarkus Jefferson, the area’s top touchdown scorer, conducted a long pep talk at the end of practice.
“I heard some seniors calling up younger guys and tell them the situation, tell them the expectations and tell them where we’re at this week,” Summerford said. “That was a good thing for us this week. I think our seniors have really taken over.”
The Chiefs simply can’t afford a repeat performance against a Chipley program that made a run to the state semifinals last season. Guided by head coach Marcus Buchanan, a former position coach at Milton, the Tigers have shut out five teams and captured 10 of 11 games by double figures in 2022, including a 39-20 win against Baker last week.
Tough to tame
Facing a squad that has darted past its competition by a combined margin of 389-95, Summerford says there’s one attribute that’s particularly concerning.
“Their speed is probably the most challenging thing I think. That’s the thing that stands out about them,” the Chiefs head coach said of the Tigers. “That’s the challenge of the week, we have to figure out how to play against that.”
Auburn commit Dequayvious Sorey leads the Chipley offense. The senior wide receiver has racked up 54 catches for 1,027 yards and 15 touchdowns.
With opposing defenses game-planning for Sorey, Khaiden Kennedy has taken advantage of lighter boxes. The junior running back has totaled 155 carries for 1,459 yards and 19 scores. Meanwhile, senior quarterback Neal Adams has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,745 yards and a 25-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The Tigers’ speed isn’t only displayed on offense, as the team’s secondary also shares that attribute. Same goes for a linebacker core, who according to Summerford, feature players that are “more like “(defensive backs)” who rally to the football. Senior middle linebacker Roman Overstreet paces the group with a team-high 79 tackles.
That’s the level of competition that Northview needs to overcome in order to come away with its biggest win since capturing the state title a decade ago.
Seeking a milestone
Since the Chiefs play out of the Rural classification, they don’t get to play for district titles. With several stops on his resume before becoming the Northview head coach in 2020, Summerford knows the joy of seeing his team raise a district trophy high in the sky.
If the team can earn one more victory, that joy would return. And then some.
“The district title when I was at West Florida and Tate was huge,” Summerford said. “If you win that district title, you are headed in the right direction. … So now this is our first opportunity to bring home some hardware back to Northview and something that’ll last for a real long time up there in the trophy case. I think just for these kids and where it’s headed, I think it will be a milestone and it’s definitely the biggest game we’ve played in during my tenure.”
Region 1-1R Final
No. 2 Chipley at No. 1 Northview
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Tommy Weaver Memorial Football Stadium
RPI ranking: Chipley (10.53) – second in Region 1-1R, fifth in Class 1R, 70th overall; Northview (11.538) – first in Region 1-1R, third in Class 1R, 60th overall
Key players: Chipley – Dequayvious Sorey (WR/DB, Sr.), Neal Adams (QB, Sr.), Roman Overstreet (LB, Sr.), Khaiden Kennedy (RB, Sr.), Tyren Watford (LB, Sr.); Northview – Jamarkus Jefferson (RB/LB, Sr.), John Michael Ward (OL/DL, Sr.), Kaden Odom (QB/CB, Sr.), Luke Bridges (RB/SS, Sr.), Aidan Broadhead, (WR/DB, Sr.)
Last week’s results: Chipley – 39-20 win over Baker; Northview – 34-26 win over Holmes County
Last meeting: Nov. 13, 2020 – Northview 32, Chipley 12
Patrick’s prediction (sure to be wrong): Northview 31, Chipley 24
Patrick’s prediction record through the regular season: 77-22
Patrick Bernadeau is a sports reporter for the Pensacola News Journal. He can be reached at (850) 503-3828, on Twitter @PatBernadeau or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.