Pahokee uses bye week before Class 1A championship game to ‘get fresh’

The Blue Devils, who clinched a berth in the Class 1A state championship game last week with a 21-19 victory over Madison County, don’t play until Dec. 8.

The rare week off in between the state semifinals and finals comes as a result of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s decision to move its football championship game from Charlotte, N.C., to Orlando. That game will played Saturday.

The change pushed the Class 1A through 4A state championship games at Camping World Stadium from this weekend to next weekend. All eight state title games will be played in a three-day span Dec. 8-10.

Pahokee (13-0), which finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in Class 1A, and unranked Baker (13-0) will play first. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Dec. 8.

Blue Devils coach Orson Walkes said the extra week between games will be good for Pahokee, which will get additional time to recover from a difficult postseason stretch that included games against three state-ranked opponents (No. 4 Newberry, No. 3 Trenton and No. 1 Madison County).

“The extra time will help,” Walkes said. “It’s been a brutal playoff run. Not that we were really banged up, but it’s always good to get fresh again.”

Eight teams will have an extra week to prepare for their state championship games, while eight others (Classes 5A-8A) will have the typical week of preparation after playing their state semifinal contests Friday.

FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett said he was unaware of another situation where teams had to wait an extra week to play their state championship games.

“We realize the uniqueness of the 1A-4A teams waiting two weeks to play a game,” he said. “But we believe this occurrence will benefit them in several ways.”

At Pahokee, it was mostly business as usual this week.

Walkes did not give his players a day off, but did limit the physicality of practice sessions. Players did not wear pads until mid-week.

“We lightened the load a little bit,” said Walkes, a first-year head coach and former Pahokee football standout. “We wanted to give the kids’ bodies time to heal up from last week. Our schedule is the same. We just changed the approach.”

Walkes and his players are readying for another big challenge in Baker.

Though the Gators aren’t state-ranked like the Blue Devils’ previous three opponents, they are unbeaten.

Baker (13-0), located in the Panhandle area about two hours west of Tallahassee, won its first 11 games by an average of 34 points before pulling out a pair of close wins during the past two weeks.

The Gators, who play a similar style of football to Pahokee, defeated Graceville 21-14 in the regional finals, and edged Blountstown 20-19 in the state semifinals last week.

“We just got the film, but they seem versatile on offense,” Walkes said. “They’ve got a stout defense, which is similar to ours. The offense is similar to our offense and our formations. They spread the ball around pretty good. They have a good run game and pass game. It’ll be a good state championship game.”

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