JACKSONVILLE, FLa. – "It's just another game on the schedule." That was the overall vibe as University Christian, Raines and Trinity Christian all prepare for this weekend's State title games.
All three schools have traversed different paths in route to the Championship, which will be played in Orlando.
In the Semifinals University Christian held Victory Christian Academy to -88 rushing yards. Through three playoff games they've allowed a total of zero rushing yards. The Christians won the 2A State title in 2012. Senior running back Hussein Howe was a freshman on that team and he's used that experience to help his teammates prepare for Friday's game against Cambridge Christian (Tampa).
"All year I've been telling them what I experienced my freshman year," said Howe. "I've been preparing those guys, along with my coaches as we get ready for the big stage."
The big stage has avoided Raines and every other Jacksonville Public High School of recent memory. When they face Booker T Washington (Miami) on Saturday they'll be looking to become the first Jacksonville Public High School to bring home a state title since 1997. To put that in perspective, Vikings star linebacker Michael Pinckney wasn't born until 1998.
"I know we haven't been here in a long time," said Pickney who is committed to play at Miami next year. "We can't live in the moment. We just have to go out there and play for each other and compete."
Raines arrived in Championship game after avenging last year’s playoff loss to Bolles and after beating Santa Fe. The only thing standing between the Vikings and their goal of winning a state title is a Booker T Washington program that's the three-time defending class 4A champions.
"We have to play great defense," said Viking coach Deran Wiley. "Special teams have to be flawless and the offense has to be efficient. That's the key and then of course we have to win the turnover battle."
Raines and University Christian aren't the only schools looking to bring home some hardware this weekend. Trinity Christian is looking to join some elite company. With a win over Del Ray American Heritage they'll become only the 12th team to win three straight state championships.