Stakes raised even higher in this year’s Muck Bowl showdown

The question has always lingered over the heads of everyone who puts on Blue Devil blue or Raiders red: Would you rather win the state championship or win the Muck Bowl?

It was always a philosophical question — hardware or hometown rivalry? — because Palm Beach County’s Game of Games had no playoff implications. Since Glades Central and Pahokee play in different classes, either team could lose the Muck Bowl and still run through the playoffs and win a title. In fact, that exact scenario has happened at least four times.

Not anymore, though. With the dissolution of districts from the Blue Devils’ Class 1A to the Raiders’ Class 4A and the introduction of a state points system, every game counts for playoff eligibility, including Friday’s Muck Bowl at Glades Central. Now it’s win and almost certainly go to the playoffs, lose and who knows?

[Muck Bowl 2017: Glades Central’s Hester, Pahokee’s Walkes recall favorite rivarly memories]

“There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of buzz throughout the town, throughout the campus,” Glades Central coach Jessie Hester said. “There’s definitely a lot of excitement — the highest I’ve seen in such a while. Everyone seems to be really, very excited about the upcoming game.”

Entering Friday’s game, both Lake Okeechobee-bordering teams are poised for a playoff spot (as is Class 2A Glades Day). Pahokee is first in its region, while Glades Central is fourth.

“Now the game really counts in many different ways,” Hester said.

Pahokee (6-2) is reeling after their game last week. The Blue Devils traveled to the Space Coast to play undefeated Cocoa, the No. 1 team in Class 4A, according to the Associated Press, and the No. 8 team in the Southeast, according to USA Today. The Tigers beat the Blue Devils 45-0, putting a running clock on Pahokee.

“It was pretty somber there on Monday, based on what happened last week,” said Pahokee coach Orson Walkes,whose team has played a monster schedule filled with bigger-classification teams, “but the atmosphere is starting to pick up.”

Walkes said he thinks the long trip may have had something to do with the blowout, and his team came out flat last week.

“We just weren’t ourselves,” he said. “We went into a tough opponent not truly prepared.”

Glades Central (6-2), on the other hand, is rolling. The Raiders are winners of four straight and have outscored those opponents 137-39.

Hester is used to Muck Bowl blowouts. In his first stint as Glades Central’s head coach from 2008-10, the Raiders won all three years with a combined score of 124-35, culminating in 2010’s 58-0 blowout. But this time around, the two teams seem fairly even.

The Blue Devils, who snapped an eight-game losing streak in the rivalry last season, and Raiders both feature standout defenses, and last week’s loss to Cocoa notwithstanding, the Blue Devils and Raiders have been moving the ball well.

“Both teams are evenly matched,” Hester said. “Two great defenses, two offenses that can score but does it in different ways. Those guys can run the ball really well, and we pass the ball really well.”

For Pahokee, junior running backs Jaterie Washington and Lavonski Williams are the keys to moving the ball. Washington is the Blue Devils’ shifty runner, capable of bouncing of defenders, while Williams is the power back, who can run through them.

Behind the Glades Central offensive line (which features Division I prospect Willie Canty III) is junior quarterback Davious Richards, who took over under center midway through the season. Richards has helped turn the Raiders’ offense around with his ability to make plays while avoiding turnovers.

“He’s a guy that I’m looking forward to continue his good play and to lead the charge,” Hester said.

But there’s one thing at the Muck Bowl that you can’t predict: how players will handle the pressure. For some, it may be the biggest game they ever play in.

“You approach every Muck Bowl like it’s the Super Bowl,” Walkes said. “You have to make sure that you’re preparing yourself for the atmosphere.”

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