VERNON — Bratt Northview ascended to heights last year that Vernon aspires to equal this year.
The Yellow Jackets will host Northview on Friday in a Region 1-1A semifinal football game that pits upstart Vernon against the defending Class 1A champions. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
In another Region 1-1A semifinal Friday night, Cottondale hits the road to play at undefeated Baker. That game also starts at 7:30 p.m.
Vernon coach Bobby Johns steered the Yellow Jackets to a District 2-1A title with seven straight victories following an 0-3 start. Vernon finished 4-0 in its district to guarantee a semifinal showdown at home against Northview, which finished second in District 1-1A with a 2-1 league mark and 3-6 record overall.
Northview features a dynamic receiver in Neino Robinson, whose brother, Neiko, now plays football at Penn State. The younger Robinson is a fleet-footed athlete who can get behind the defense in a hurry.
“Defensively we’ve got to find some way to slow down their skill kids,” Johns said. “Robinson … is an outstanding receiver. Their running back is a really good football player. They just do a good job spreading it out one play and then going with two tight foot-to-foot splits on the next play. We’ve got to be able to make those adjustments.”
Johns said his players will be challenged by a Chiefs team that features numerous players who were part of last year’s title-winning team.
“We’re not used to being in this situation,” he said. “Winning the state championship last year, they are battle-tested. We’ve got to overcome that.”
Johns said his team, which is led offensively by playmakers Austin Brown and Brandon Malloy, has improved each week since its slow start. He noted only one game during this current win streak in which he was critical of his team, a game at Sneads on Nov. 1. But even that outcome resulted in a 35-19 Yellow Jacket victory.
“The last four our five games we just seemed to get a little better each week,” Johns said. “And we’re healthy, which is very important at this time of year. We need to continue to get a little bit better and live in the moment, so to speak.”
In the other regional semifinal, Cottondale (6-4, 3-1) secured the second playoff berth out of District 2-1A and will have its hands full with Baker, which is 10-0 and rolled to the 2-1A title with a 3-0 district record.
The host Gators boast an impressive record, but Baker isn’t invulnerable and has had several close games this year. The Gators narrowly edged Northview 24-20 two weeks ago and outlasted South Walton 42-33 last week. Sneads, Graceville and Jay lost to Baker by two touchdowns or less.
Baker is averaging a little more than 40 points and allowing 16 per game. Cottondale’s offense has generated 31 points a game, and the defense has held opponents to an average of 23 points.