The chase for the district crown in 1-5A has been hectic, entertaining and more dynamic than any district race in the PNJ coverage area.
Comprised of local teams (West Florida High, Pensacola High) and Panama City teams (Arnold, Bay, Mosley), all five teams are still alive in the postseason hunt though only two District 1-5A games remain.
Locally, the West Florida Jaguars will host Pensacola High, while Mosley and Bay battle it out down the interstate.
With a Pensacola High win and a Bay loss, the improbable five-team shootout would be held Monday at Bay.
If West Florida wins and Bay wins, the Jaguars would be district champion and Bay would be runner up.
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With a PHS win and a Bay win, Bay would be district champs and leave Arnold, West Florida and PHS in a three-team shootout for runner up.
But PHS and West Florida won’t focus on what’s happening Friday night in Panama City, because both teams will be locked in on their cross-town district rivals.
Both the Tigers and Jags’ are playing their best football at any point this season. The Jaguars are on a four-game win streak and PHS is coming off a much-needed district win over Mosley.
The squads will collide pairing an athletic and balanced offense at PHS against one of the area’s stingiest defenses at West Florida.
“Just the look in their (our players) eyes,” said PHS coach Mike Mincy, referring to what made this week’s practices different than any previous week in the season. “It’s a playoff atmosphere. The way our guys have been hustling around … they are just excited about playing Friday night.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for West Florida’s defense. (Defensive coordinator ) Rhett Summerford does a great job. They will be a tough team to beat, but we knew that going into the season. It will be a fun game to watch. Two teams battling it out.”
The Jaguars defense is led by linebackers Kalia Davis and Ricky Richardson, who have combined for 165 total tackles this season.
Tino Espinoza leads the way from the secondary and has produced four interceptions and 36 tackles along the way.
The Tigers will look for production from a handful of backs, including Carlos Brown, who is eager for contact on Friday night.
“I’m not gonna run away from nobody,” Brown said. “I’m going straight ahead and running down hill. We are playing against a good team this Friday. We know what is at stake. If we don’t come ready to play ball, we know what will happen.”
Leading the way for Brown is an experienced offensive line, led by left gaurd Tytalarrius Saulsberry.
Saulsberry has high expectations for himself and his teammates, and is eager to “come out with the ‘W’.”
“After all of our hard work and dedication this season, we’re really looking forward to playing them guys on Friday,” Saulsberry said. “I expect for us to come out strong, and keep moving the ball and put points on the board.”
Defensively, the Tigers will have their hands full in effort to contain West Florida’s backfield (Marquis Ross and Jaelyn Allen, who rushed for more than 300 yards and 3 TDs in last week’s win over Arnold) as well as a talented a speedy receiving corps headlined by Damond Johnson and Javen Jackson.
PHS defensive lineman Kenneth Greer will strive to win the battle up front and cause headaches for West Florida’s offense.
“West Florida has got some good offensive linemen,” said Greer, who produced 13 tackles and 4.5 sacks in last week’s win over Mosley. “I’m ready to go against them and I’m looking forward to that challenge. We’re just trying to keep momentum and keep it moving forward.
‘We’ve gotta give it all … 110%. For the alumni, for everybody who came through PHS and for everyone who is on the field.”
Want to Go?
What: District 1-5A Showdown
Who: West Florida Jaguars vs. Pensacola High Tigers.
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Where: Woodham Middle
Records: West Florida ( 5-3, 2-1) ; PHS (4-4, 1-2).
Skinny: All three of West Florida’s losses have come at home at Woodham Middle. PHS is 1-2 on the road this season. Both teams enter the contest coming off key District 1-5A wins last Friday.