South Walton (5-4) is set for a road rematch against Marianna (6-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the opening road of the Region 1-4A playoffs.
SANTA ROSA BEACH — Marianna had no answer for Drake Roberts.
On Sept. 27, the South Walton quarterback completed 27-of-31 passes for 311 yards, four touchdowns and no picks in a 30-27 win that wasn’t decided until Gabe Hanson’s 30-yard field goal in the waning seconds.
Two months later in the one-and-done setting of the Region 1-4A quarterfinals, Marianna (6-4) will try to solve the riddle that is South Walton’s prolific aerial attack tonight at home in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
"Our first goal was to make the playoffs and we did that. Now it's a one-week season every week from here on out," South Walton coach Phil Tisa said.
Just how good has Roberts been?
Since an 0-3 start, the Dandy Dozen selection has at least two scores in every game and has thrown for 13 touchdowns (five each to JM Allen and Zane Hamilton) without an interception. He also has six scores on the ground, meaning he’s essentially averaging 300 yards of offense and 3.2 scores per game during a 5-1 stretch for the Seahawks.
“He just could not miss, and those guys were catching everything he threw," Marianna coach John Donaldson said of Roberts in the initial meeting. "They’re really coached up well and do a good job of executing what coach Tisa needs them to do.”
How does Marianna plan to limit South Walton's aerial attack? The only realistic way they know how: to keep Roberts off the field.
That'll depend on the Bulldogs' single-wing attack, which is averaging 263 rushing yards per game behind senior Jaden Smith (912 yards and eight touchdowns) and Damone Rolle (728 yards).
"You try to put some points up with every possession being so critical," Donaldson said. "We’ve just got to do what we do offensively, just try to figure it out and keep moving the football.”
Tisa understands their bread and butter.
"They run the ball well in a very untraditional offense and they're big up front," he said. "We need to have a good night against the run and force some third-and-longs."
Forcing the Bulldogs into passing situations may expose a Brady Donaldson-led aerial attack that is just 24-of-54 on the year for 454 yards and four touchdowns compared to two interceptions.
South Walton, fresh off back-to-back wins over Freeport and Rutherford, meanwhile, has become far less one-dimensional with Tyler Mitchum and Roberts combining for 10 of the 13 rushing touchdowns.
Boding well for the Seahawks, who advanced to the region semifinals last year, is that they've won in this environment before.
"It helps our confidence that we've been to their place and been successful," Tisa said "Our guys understand what we need to do and it's just a matter of executing."