Niceville Vs Edgewater
Niceville, FL — Redemption would be the CliffsNotes version. A year ago against Edgewater in the Region 1-7A title game, Niceville couldn’t establish the run, had a costly fourth-quarter turnover and saw its season come to an end in a 28-20 road loss. A year later, the defeat remains Grant Thompson’s lone blemish amid a 23-1 record at the Eagles’ helm. A year later, it remains a sore spot for Niceville. “We’re competitors so there is that revenge factor,” Thompson said. Niceville's Trey Wainwright throws a pass in a win earlier this season. Added quarterback Trey Wainwright, who has exploded onto the scene with 2,584 passing yards, a 73% completion rate and 34 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions: “We’ve wanted this rematch all year.” Well, the time for redemption has come, Niceville (11-0) set to host the Edgewater Eagles (7-2) Friday at 7 p.m. for a spot in the 7A state championship. Yet that redemption narrative, however strong it may be, is a bit shortsighted. After all, these are not the Niceville Eagles of 2019. Wainwright has opened up Niceville’s aerial attack — Roland Clay and the impact of his team-best 11 touchdown receptions remain immeasurable. Niceville won handily, 56-14. Azareyeh Thomas is more incorporated into the offense — the four-star prospect leading all specialty players with 14 touchdowns. The offensive and defensive lines — led by 6-foot-5 tackles Austin Firestone and Kimo Makaneole — is bigger and more technically sound in the trenches. And Niceville’s rushing attack is more nuanced — big-play threats Micah Turner and Shawn Parker each with 10 touchdowns and Dom Annichiarico unstoppable at the goal line with eight of his 12 touchdowns coming inside the 5-yard line. Meanwhile Niceville doesn’t lose at home — a narrative continued from last year. At the friendly confines of Eagle Stadium, Niceville routed Fort Walton Beach 49-14, Crestview 56-14, Mosley 45-0, Pensacola Catholic 35-0 and Leon 42-0. The last time a Thompson-coached Niceville team lost at home? Never. “We’ve been looking forward to returning home,” Wainwright said. “We play really well at Eagle Stadium.” “It’s big time,” linebacker Preston Murphy said of the home-field advantage. Pre-Thompson, Niceville's last defeat in Niceville came on Nov. 2 of 2018. But don’t be mistaken. Niceville's success in the playoffs doesn’t hinge on avenging that Edgewater loss. Niceville’s goal is bringing home the program’s first state title since 1988 and the area’s first state title since Fort Walton Beach’s triumph in 1995. “At this point, we’ve faced so much adversity,” Clay said. “It don’t matter what’s in front of us. We ready.” While Niceville's offense hasn’t been held to under 35 points all year — the first-stringers pulled in the third quarter in 10 of the 11 wins — the defense has posted four shutouts. Had they finished out a 35-0 lead last week in which they forced three turnovers that lead to three scores, it likely would have been five. “We’re hard to run on because the defensive line is so dominant, so if you want to throw the ball, you have to do so on two of the best corners (Thomas and Dramarian “Juice” McNulty) in the country,” said Thompson, who also praised a star-studded linebackers crew . “What’s that leave you? They'll be tasked with containing an offense averaging 32.5 points a game. Noticeably absent from the mix is current Coast Carolina tailback Isaiah Connelly, who last year exploded for 245 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Niceville. Ever since Connelly's departure, it’s been Canaan Mobley’s offense. The senior quarterback, who was 11-for-20 for 180 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions in last year’s region title win, has 14 touchdowns on the season. He’s accented by a backfield that includes FSU commit Cedric Baxter and a wide receiving core featuring Tommi Hill and Christian Leary. The Eagles have the pedigree of a powerhouse, the Orlando-based Eagles celebrating their third straight Final Four and bidding for a second straight title game appearance after last year’s 28-23 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas. Their 10 Final Fours tie Osceola for the most state semifinal appearances among Orlando-area teams. “They’re not only really talented but they’re also well coached,” Thompson said. “They’ve been consistently good for a reason.