NICEVILLE — Tim Albert fired the cross into the box. It was more a prayer than a calculated maneuver.


No. 8 Buchholz had been packing its defensive third with 10 and sometimes all 11 players all night Wednesday — almost admitting it didn’t have the offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe with No. 1 Niceville in the opening round of the Region 1-6A playoffs — and a thick fog blanketed the Twin Oaks Complex, limiting visibility.


Somehow, the ball found its way to junior Logan Harrelson in the scrum. All he saw was the back of the net.


"Just put it on frame," he thought. "Don’t miss."


He didn’t. Niceville’s bench and its fans lining the opposite sideline erupted as the Eagles broke open a scoreless game in the 48th minute en route to a 2-0 victory, Niceville — ranked fifth in the country by MaxPreps — taking its first step toward a state title with its 14th clean sheet of the season.


For Eagles coach Wes Nelson, the victory signaled once again his team knows how to adjust to win. Niceville took some eight shots at the goal in the first half to no avail, including a free kick from just beyond the penalty box that star forward Liam Etan pushed just wide to the right, but the possessions were good.


"I felt like our possession tired them out a little bit," Nelson said. "We were hoping they would open up in the second half, and we took advantage of the opportunities. We didn’t get a ton just because they had so many guys back on defense."


Harrelson’s goal, though, seemed to open the door. Senior midfielder James Hawver netted a second for Niceville (21-0-2 overall) just three minutes later off an assist from Etan for some much-needed insurance.


"We just had to stay within ourselves and not change our gameplan and understand that even if we hadn’t scored yet, we would create opportunities and trust ourselves," Nelson said. "We did that, and when (Logan and James) got chances to score, they put them away, which you have to do in big games like this."


Down two goals, the Bobcats (10-5-3) had few answers, taking just two shots on goal in the final 30 minutes amid Niceville’s stifling defense.


Up next, Niceville is set to host No. 5 Fletcher (14-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Twin Oaks. After falling to No. 3 Creekside in the semifinal round of the District 3-6A tournament in PKs, the Senators scored three second-half goals against No. 4 Edgewater on Wednesday night to force overtime and secure a narrow 4-3 victory.


Harrelson said the Eagles’ gameplan for Creekside will be simple.


"We’re just gonna keep playing how we’ve been all season," he said. "Keep the ball, work hard.


"Every team’s gonna be good and fast now. We just gotta see what we’re ahead of, and I think we can go all the way."