Niceville, FL — Hey, not every win has to be pretty. If you bore witness to Niceville's 20-6, Sweet 16-qualifying victory over visiting Atlantic Coast Friday night at Eagle Stadium, you understand. If not, you'll have to take my word for it. Niceville's heavy package wasn't working, two first-and-goals at the 1-yard line resulting in just three points. Passes were either being overthrown or dropped at important junctures, while touchdowns were being called back. Addie Moore emerged from every pain-staking carry hobbled and grimacing after posting 158 yards and a score, while Azareyeh Thomas couldn't find a sliver of operating room in open space. Five drives into the red zone netted just one touchdown, two of the trips leading to a pair of Logan Marise field goals that for most of the night proved to be the difference in a one-possession game entering the fourth quarter. The Stingrays even picked up a fourth-and-11 at their own 11 in the third quarter because, well, why not? This is the playoffs, after all, where everyone is good and mistakes are the difference between hanging banners and a long offseason. But Niceville's C-game trumps most teams' A-game. And Bird Pope's 26-yard touchdown with 9:40 left to play to make it a 20-6 game allowed the Eagles to breathe a sigh of relief. "Touchdown called back in the red zone, two mishaps in the red zone, bunch of penalties ... we know we can play better than that," Niceville coach Grant Thompson said. "But that's a good team and they played hard. They did some things to limit us and we did some things to limit us as well." As they say, survive and advance. Fortunately the Eagles (10-1) will be advancing without having to gas up the busses, Nease's 24-21 win over second-seeded Spruce Creek allowing third-seeded Niceville (10-1) to host the sixth-seeded Panthers (8-3) Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Region 1-7A semis. "That's a big deal," Thompson said. "This is the best environment in the world, the best environment in high school football and we want to play here. The place is going to be packed." It'll be the third straight Sweet 16 since Thompson assumed the helm, the Eagles now a collective 6-0 before the region finals during that span. But this year is state championship or bust, and even Niceville's C-game can't ultimately deliver that. Eagles placekicker Logan Marise drilled two field goals in the Eagles 20-6 football playoff win over Atlantic Coast at Niceville. Stat of the Night: Marise 7, Stingrays 6 Yep, Marise outscored the Stingrays by his lonesome Friday night. First came the sophomore's 24-yarder in the second quarter to put the Eagles up 10-0 following Moore's 11-yard score. Then, with the Eagles clinging to a 10-6 advantage late in the third quarter, a 30-yarder snuck just inside the left post. "I just gotta do what I do every day in practice, which is what Charles (Labee) taught me, Nathan (Stepp) helps me with and the coaches trust me to do," Marise said. Following the visitors' miss on their only kick, an extra point, Niceville's success on special teams validates an important facet often overlooked in high school: Kicking wins you ball games. Just ask Buchholz. OFFENSIVE MVP: Bird Pope, Niceville We witnessed Pope break with 405 yards and five scores over the second half of the season, but Friday Pope saves his best effort yet. He rushed 16 times for 129 yards and the game-winning score, a moment four years in the making. "The more they give me the ball, the more I love it," he said. "This is what I've been wishing for since I was a freshman and it's finally come. I'm not taking any of this for granted. I love it." DEFENSIVE MVP: Austin Firestone, Niceville So many defensive pieces shined Friday night in limiting Jacob Corley to a 1-for-15 passing effort and the backfield to 104 yards on 25 carries. Preston Murphy recovered a fumble, while Amari Carr had an interception. Colby Kerle delivered pressure on a pivotal third down stop that led to intentional grounding, and Noah Harmon produce big tackle after big tackle in clogging up the middle. Even Jack Hurtado filled in for an injured Peyton Holley and shined at linebacker. "I know how to come in and execute and really just get after it and focus up," Hurtado said. "Just do it for the Flyin' N, that was my mindset." But one constant throughout it all, throughout the whole season in fact, is Austin Firestone β€” the immovable force up the middle. The guy is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds of power, speed and agility. He terrorizes quarterbacks, sets up camp in backfields and wraps up anything within a 10-foot radius. We saw that translate into two forced fumbles Friday night, one of which directly led to a Marise field goal. Keep eating, big fella. QUOTABLE Pope on his game-winning TD and the reason(s) behind it. "I got the ball and my linemen opened up the red sea for me," he said. "That's what they do. They're the reason I'm able to score these touchdowns because nothing's possible without them. So they opened it up for me and I just took advantage of it and got a little 20-yard dash in." Up Next Nease (8-3) at Niceville (10-1), Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Eagle Stadium