Don’t check the record books, but this Pahokee team has been here before.
The Blue Devils, last year’s Class 1A champions in memory but not in name, are one game from getting back to Camping World Stadium, where they beat Baker for the title last year.
The Florida High School Athletic Association ruled that Pahokee used an ineligible player last season, resulting in the Blue Devils having to vacate the state championship.
“In my mind, people are kind of underestimating the heart of a champion” Pahokee coach Orson Walkes said. “At the end of the day, we still are the state champs. We’re the defending state champs. We’re planning on remaining the state champs.”
But first, they have to beat undefeated rural North Florida powerhouse Madison County (12-0) Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Madison. The Cowboys, like the Blue Devils (8-2), spent part of the season as the No. 1 team in the class.
“They are a good team. Can’t take that away from them,” Walkes said. “But I’m a little biased, so in my mind, we got them.”
A major issue that could face the Blue Devils is just the sheer distance they have to travel for the game. Madison, located roughly midway between Lake City and Tallahassee near the Georgia border, is more than five hours from Pahokee. When the Blue Devils had a long trip to Cocoa earlier in the season, the team came out flat and suffered a 45-0 drubbing. So Walkes will try to make sure his team is ready to go.
“Leaving early,” Walkes said, “making sure we can get there and get loose, get our blood flowing.”
The teamss have a lot in common. Both feature strong defenses and look to the running game to score. The Cowboys have racked up 3,740 rushing yards in their 12 wins.
Running back Derrick Staten Jr. leads the way with 1,050 rushing yards (on 90 carries — an average of 11.7 yards per touch) and 14 touchdowns. Another senior running back, Teryon Henderson, is second on the team with 985 yards and nine scores. Senior quarterback Tre Adams has 698 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground while throwing for 1,201 yards and nine touchdowns.
Pahokee has some strong running backs of its own. Starter Jatarie Washington, who missed the past two playoff games with an ankle injury, is back in the lineup. He has 1,356 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. In front of him, often lining up at fullback, is LaVonski Williams, who has 750 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Washington’s always been an amazing kid,” Walkes said. “He displayed that stuff all in the little league (and) could’ve probably started last year. … The kid’s a talented kid, intelligent kid, very explosive player. Typical Pahokee skill player. He’s a throwback.”
Walkes believe his team will play for another state championship in two weeks.
“We’re primed and ready,” he said.