JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Raines High School marching band and cheerleaders sent off the Vikings football team to the Class 4A state championship game in fashion Thursday.
It is just over two hours on the bus to Orlando for the Vikings, but memories from those two hours can last a lifetime. At least that's what Raines head coach Deran Wiley hopes for his team, especially his seniors.
"I don't know if I can describe it -- anxious. But we prepared all week and I am excited about spending time, traveling down the road with the guys," Wiley said. "Don't forget about the process, this is part of it -- the bus rides, entering the stadium with all the bright lights. You have to live in the moment and you have to cherish it, and I think we will."
His Vikings face a familiar foe in the Cocoa High School Tigers in Thursday evening's championship game. Raines beat Cocoa 13-10 in the 2017 title game, bringing back the first state championship to Raines in 20 years. Wiley said that he knows the Tigers are wanting revenge as much as the Vikings want to repeat.
"They are going to come out hungry," Wiley said. "We beat them last year, of course, but we do not have a hangover. We are ready to roll."
Wiley said the key to getting a win Thursday night is to come out sharp and play smart against the Tigers. He said his team needs to take care of the ball and avoid penalties.
Thursday's game will also give the top players a chance to impress college scouts who undoubtedly will be watching.
Wiley has been rolling with senior running back Brandon Marshall not only all season long, but all high school career long. Marshall eclipsed the 4,000 career rushing yards mark last week in the state semifinals and as much as he means on the field for the Vikings, he means just as much off of it, according to Wiley.
"His career has been simply remarkable if you want to describe it," Wiley said.
As far as Marshall is concerned, he said that he wants to bring back another trophy to Northwest side for everybody.
"They are going to come out extremely intense and we are going to come out and match their intensity because as big as the chip on their shoulder is, ours to repeat is bigger. They are trying to get revenge and we are trying to repeat," Marshall said. It would mean a lot to bring it back to Raines because it is all for the community. They support us and we want to bring it back for the community. They do a lot for us."
It will also be senior linebacker Nigel Allen’s last chance to bring home the win.
"The bus ride there is going to be a bonding moment for us, for the seniors, all of the class of 2019," Allen said. "It's the last time we will play ball together so we have to make it memorable."
The Vikings and Tigers kick off in the Class 4A State Championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday from Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Raines will looking for its third state title in school history (1997 and 2017). The Vikings are already the only Duval County public school to ever win a state championship in football.
Brian Jackson will be there and have updates on social media and on News4Jax.