Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Raines, Ribault Seek Home Edge; Winner Plays Host to Playoff Game

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Raines, Ribault Seek Home Edge; Winner Plays Host to Playoff Game

Article excerpt

Byline: Chase Goodbread, Times-Union sports writer

District championships have been clinched before in the Northwest Classic, the storied football series between Raines and Ribault, but most often only one team has entered the game with that opportunity.

Tonight, in the series' 33rd renewal at Raines, both neighboring rivals have that goal within reach.

"Districts have been won in this game before, but this one is as big as any," Raines coach Welton Coffey said. "As a team, you want to start peaking at this point in the season."

District 3-4A comes down to the 7 p.m. kickoff with Ribault (8-0) and Raines (7-1) unbeaten in district play. The winner will play at home in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser likely will travel. Jacksonville playoff teams on the road typically travel to the Panhandle, and history shows they usually lose.

Raines' playoff record in the Panhandle is 1-10, including 0-5 in the first round. Ribault has gone to the Panhandle three times in the first round in its playoff history, and lost twice, most recently to Pace, 28-14, in 2000.

Other spoils to the winner aside -- a Gateway Conference title and Northside bragging rights -- a home-field advantage in the playoffs is the only tangible reward in the quest for the real prize: a state title.

"I sure don't want that long bus ride in the first round," Ribault coach Arthur Mallory said. "I want to play here."

Ribault is two wins away from its second perfect regular season; the team was unbeaten in 1999. To accomplish that, the Trojans will have to beat two of their two toughest opponents of the season: Raines tonight and Bolles next week.

The Vikings' loss this year came against Bolles.

"Since that Bolles game, we've focused very much on improving our offensive line," Coffey said. "I want to run the ball. We've got some inexperience up front that has to be overcome, and everyone needs to know who to block. We can't win without running the ball; Ribault, they probably can."

Given the passing exploits of Ribault quarterback Chris Walker, who is 18-0 as a starter in the regular season, Coffey may be right. Walker is averaging nearly three touchdown passes per game, and needs 242 passing yards for 2,000 on the season. …

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