Dwyer 35, St. Thomas Aquinas 28

Dwyer receiver Ezra Saffold signals "first down" after gaining a first down in the fourth quarter against St. Thomas Aquinas. (Michael Laughlin / Sun Sentinel / November 29, 2013)

Dwyer football coach Jack Daniels spoke on a Monday conference call about how his first state title game in 2001 was a disaster, with his team giving up a state record 77 points to Venice.

He gave some details about what happened the second time in 2009 but not many. Niceville coach John Hicks filled in everyone on what happened. He would know. It was Dwyer that defeated Niceville 42-14 to win the Class 4A state title.

“Back then they were a little more run-oriented and they handed the ball off,” Hicks recalled. “Now they throw the ball. I think they’re just as potent even with a different offense. Defensively, they’re similar to 2009.”

Daniels and Hicks will get reacquainted Friday when Dwyer (14-0) faces Niceville (13-1) in the Class 7A state championship at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.


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Dwyer, which has made the playoffs for 15 consecutive seasons, makes its third state title game appearance in school history.

Niceville, a perennial power in Northwest Florida, has also made the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons. Niceville, which is about 15 miles northeast of Fort Walton Beach, is making its second state title game appearance.

“In 2009, we treated [Dwyer’s second state title appearance], completely different,” Daniels said. “I was probably just a young, dumb kid the first time. [In 2009], we realized the opportunity may not come again so we treated like a business trip.”

There’s no denying what happened in 2009 was a learning experience for both men.

So was what happened in the state semifinals last Friday.

Daniels said Dwyer’s 31-24 overtime win over East Lake generated its fair share of emotions. Dwyer held a 14-point lead before East Lake rallied sending the game into the extra frame.

“We had no idea what we were doing and we were shellshocked and the kids picked up on that up,” Daniels said of his coaching staff. “You ask for a play in overtime and there was silence in overtime because nobody wants to make a call.”

Daniels said the game has given his team an idea of what to do in a close game. It could come in handy against Niceville.

Niceville edged Osceola 31-30, which was decided by a field goal.

“I think Osceola is similar [to Dwyer] defensively with their athleticism and personnel,” Hicks said. “Offensively, we don’t know anyone we’ve seen quite like them with as many weapons as they have and a quarterback who can get it done.”

Hicks drew from one positive moment in 2009 when Niceville had 4,000 fans show up to the title game.

“We had people fly in from all over the country last time,” he said. “I think they’ll come to see the rematch. I figure we can play them closer this time.”

 

rsclark@sunsentinel.com Follow Clark on Twitter @ryan_s_clark