Blountstown and Liberty County need no introduction.
The football teams, separated by a bridge traversing the Apalachicola River, rekindle a long-standing rivalry Friday in the Region 2-1A championship. It’s a rematch of a regular-season matchup won by Liberty County that propelled the Bulldogs to the District 4-1A title. This game carries much greater significance.
The winner moves on to the Class 1A state semifinal against the survivor of the Region 1-1A championship game between Freeport (6-5) and Bratt Northview (8-3). It would be Blountstown coach Greg Jordan’s second foray into the Final Four. It would be Liberty County mentor Grant Grantham’s first at the school.
“We’re one of eight teams left in 1A football and this was one of our goals,” Grantham said. “The community is looking forward to it and the kids are looking forward to it.”
Jordan echoed the sentiment, noting the young Tigers’ improvement from a loss in the first round of the playoffs last season. Blountstown (7-4) also has improved in recent weeks behind a defense that has been dominating with three shutouts in its last four games, including last week against a dangerous Holmes County offense.
Grantham agreed that Blountstown is a different football team than when the teams played Oct. 19 in Bristol. The Bulldogs (9-2) jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead and held on for a 20-7 victory. The Tigers have won three of their last four behind the shutouts.
“They’re a good team and I think they’ve gotten better since we last played,” Grantham said. “We still have a few wrinkles they haven’t seen and I’m sure they have some we haven’t seen, too.”
Jordan said the Tigers’ improvement can be attributed to their defense, which has only one senior starter. Blountstown only has five seniors on its roster and it carried the Tigers last week when quarterback Hunter Jordan returned from an ankle injury in a limited capacity.
Hunter Jordan will start again Friday, but coach Jordan said his son will not play on defense. The younger Jordan didn’t play there last week either and it didn’t seem to harm the Tigers.
“I just think they’re gelling, they’re a bunch of kids who have continued to improve and they’re playing well right now,” coach Jordan said of his defense. “Of course, Liberty provides a lot of challenges for us.”
That includes an offense that is again fueled by healthy complements at quarterback and running back in Dustin Watson and Alex Marlowe, respectively. Watson threw for two touchdowns in the previous meeting and Marlowe rushed for 222 yards in last week’s regional semifinal win over Bozeman.
Blountstown lost the battle up front in the first meeting. It will be crucial again, coach Jordan said.
“It starts at the line of scrimmage, we have to do a better job on both sides, run the football and stop the run for sure,” he said. “It comes down to making plays.”
That may be simplistic, but Grantham agreed. The teams have forged through weeks of preseason practices and 11 weeks of a regular season. There won’t be any major changes and both teams are familiar with each other, which has the makings for another tight contest.
“It’s the same ole, same ole,” Grantham said. “You need to execute, win the turnover battle, have a few more big plays. It’s pretty simple at this point.”
The game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CST and admission is $8.