GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – The Clay Blue Devils will be seeking their first football state championship since 1967 when they take on the American Heritage Patriots in the Class 5A title game Friday afternoon.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Three of Clay's four playoff games were decided by two points or less, including a 74-73 shootout against Bishop Kenny.
"We're not supposed to be here," Clay QB Wes Weeks said. "Everybody's been doubting us and I'm just proud of the team, and we just want to go down there and make history."
The team paraded through town Thursday before hitting the highway.
"We're going past the elementary school -- future Blue Devils -- we're going past the junior high, we're going to the county office, to the courthouse," Clay High Principal Pete McCabe said of the sendoff. "They're all coming out along the roadway to see the Blue Devils. It's an experience the guys will remember the rest of their lives."
"We just haven't been ready to turn our pads in yet, and that's kind of been our motivation: just see you on Monday, just keep swimming," Weeks said.
The team has been inspired this year by the baseball coach's wife, who pulled through a double lung transplant she wasn't expected to survive.
"You just keep swimming, no matter what," athletic director Jay Stilianou said. "If your house burns down, if you don't get the grades you want, if you don't get the job you want, it doesn't matter, just keep swimming. Things will eventually get better."
That's exactly what the players have learned this season.
"Losing our quarterback, the starting tailback tearing his meniscus at the beginning of the year, maybe losing our best defender Jamie Peters at cornerback with a torn ACL right during the district championship run," Stilianou said. "But you know what, they just kept swimming every single game."
And it has paid off to this point.
"The Bishop game was awesome, and then J.T.'s catch with 4.7 seconds left, and then last week finishing off and winning by two," head coach Josh Hoekstra said. "It's been such a great ride, and now we're going to go finish it off."
If they get that big win, "We'll celebrate all the way back from Orlando," Hoekstra said.