What if I told you there were two football programs separated by 21 miles with a burning hatred — yet healthy respect — for each other?
Where games have become de-facto district titles.
Where T-shirts are made to commemorate wins, where student sections reach four figures, where the legacies of coaches is decided.
Where best friends growing up become enemies for one night, where four quarters and 48 minutes of football bleeds into trash talk until the next meeting.
Where, although marked stretches of dominance have defined the rivalry, parity exists.
Y’all, that rivalry is Crestview and Niceville, and tonight at Jack Foster Stadium the tradition continues for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
On one sideline you have Tim Hatten’s Dawgs, the three-time defending district champs with a four-game win streak over the Eagles and a Final Four appearance a year ago. That includes last year's 2-0 stint against the Eagles, who were outscored 90-40 and bounced in the region quarterfinals.
Yet all is not right in Crestview, the Dawgs 1-2 on the year after back-to-back losses to Escambia and Godby.
On the other sideline you have Grant Thompson’s Eagles, a breezy 3-0. Yet those three straight exits in the first round of the playoffs and losing skid to Crestview loom larger than the 18 straight playoff appearances.
Just ask quarterback Will Koch, linebackers Aidan Dark and Jordan Fowler and lineman Mason Swanick, each of whom addressed in the preseason being on the losing side of the rivalry.
“It’s going to be a battle, but we’re coming for them this year,” Fowler said. “That’s our goal in this revenge tour. Anything less than a district title, a win over Crestview and a first-round exit in the playoffs is a failure for us.”
A win would almost all but assure a 19th straight playoff appearance for the Eagles, who are coming off another stout defensive effort in a 29-17 win at Fort Walton Beach.
Through three games the Eagles are allowing less than six points per game, bolstered by a 15-0 shutout of Mosley and a 41-0 beatdown of Choctaw.
They’ll face a struggling Crestview offense following a 32-0 loss at Escambia and a 27-20 loss to Godby at Jack Foster Stadium.
That’s to no fault of Dandy Dozen running back Taylor Scarbrough, who has 515 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns three starts in for a backfield averaging 201 yards per game. Meanwhile quarterback Chase Moulton has completed 48-of-82 passes for 424 yards and four touchdowns compared to three interceptions. The senior signal caller is coming off a 16-of-22 effort for 180 yards and two scores – both to senior Trace Sears – in the loss to Godby.
Defensively, the Bulldogs haven’t held an opponent under 20 points in giving up 26.3 points and 193 rushing yards per game. Godby had 388 total yards, while Escambia delivered 422 yards.
They’ll face a Niceville offense beginning to find its rhythm en route to averaging 28.3 points and 343 yards per game. And the face of that unit is Will Koch.
It’s hard to argue where the quarterback has shined most: through the air or on the ground.
The 6-foot-3 signal caller has rushed for 210 yards and two scores on 16-plus carries a night. Meanwhile he's 32-for-52 through the air for 410 yards and five scores and zero picks.
Koch’s spread the love to 10 receivers, yet Luke Unterseh remains his favorite target with 12 grabs for 154 yards and two scores. Michael Prestarri also has five receptions for 144 yards and a score.
Koch’s 49 carries may lead the way, but Shawn Parker’s 221 yards and two scores and Verran Betts’ 69 yards and a touchdown accent a backfield averaging 193 yards per game.