VERNON, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - In the playoffs and regular season, Vernon and Baker are quite familiar with each other.
It usually doesn't go well for the Jackets. Friday night in the region finals, they'll meet again at Baker, one last chance for Vernon's seniors to beat Matt Brunson's 1A powerhouse and move into the state final four.
They played in Vernon's first game, a 19-6 victory for the Gators (and the closest game the undefeated team has played all season). They played last year, and in 2015, all victories for Baker.
Now led by Gerald Tranquille, this is Vernon's best team in that span. They hope that an increase in talent and lessons learned from previous meetings will be enough to pull them through.
"Last year, we played them tough for about two, two and a half quarters and they wore us down," Tranquille said. "In the first game this year, we played them tough for about three quarters but came out of halftime again and they wore us down. They are a team that's going to play us for four quarters. They're going to keep coming at you no matter if they're up, no matter if they're down 20, 30 points. You're going to get their A-game every single time."
The Jackets are under no illusions about what it'll take to take down the Gators. It'll take now only four quarters at full-intensity, but also a near-perfect performance.
They may be better prepared than ever to do that. The Jackets have played the last three weeks at home, beating Blountstown in the regular season finale before a pair of 40-0 playoff victories over Chipley and Jay. Those games were played in poor field and weather conditions, providing valuable experience that will replicate what they could face on Friday night and have faced in prior matchups at Baker.
"It was huge," Tranquille said. "Being able to play on a muddy field and being prepared like that--you know, the first time we played them, they had rain and it really just threw a damper on everything we wanted to do offensively. But I'll tell you, I've been really proud of the guys the past two weeks. They didn't let the weather affect them. It was cold, it was muddy, it was wet, and I don't think we had any bad snaps or any fumbles."
Although Vernon is generally a solid program, they've never made an appearance in the state finals. Baker has seven, including five state championships (most recently 2016).
While the Gators have dominated the class in this decade, the Jackets have build their program up in the last 12 months. Tranquille credits the entire team for turning into a state title contender from a sub-.500 team in one season.
"We've got to give a lot of credit to the offensive line. They have really come a long way since game one. Those guys have worked hard, put a lot of time in after practice, gelling and meshing together."
The strength of the offensive line opens up multiple play makers.
"We just pride ourselves on not being one dimensional. A lot of people want to try to focus on K'wan [Powell] and try to take him away from us, but we've just got so many weapons and they really compliment each other well."
Dyvion Bush is a 1,000 passer, while Powell leads with more than 1,000 yards on the ground.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 Central.